Are machines about to let us all manufacture our own medicine?

Are machines about to let us all manufacture our own medicine?

A "freeform fabricator" like this one can already manufacture pharmeceuticals from scratch. Could it make lifesaving drugs cheaper? <a href="http://www.nature.com/nchem/journal/v4/n5/full/nchem.1313.html#/supplementary-information">Photo: Nature.com.</a>
A "freeform fabricator" like this one can already manufacture pharmeceuticals from scratch. Could it make lifesaving drugs cheaper? Photo: Nature.com.

Self-adjusting eyeglasses can already make us our own optometrists. 3-D printers might one day make us pharmacists, too.

Fast Company's Co.Exist reported Monday from the front lines of 3-D printing technology, which uses standard inputs and robotic parts to assemble customized objects on demand:

The research is still in early stages, but Glasgow scientists have already managed to print out anti-cancer drugs. They speculate that eventually, "We could even see 3-D printers reach into homes and become fabricators of domestic items, including medications. Perhaps with the introduction of carefully controlled software 'apps,' similar to the ones available from Apple, we could see consumers have access to a personal drug designer they could use at home to create the medication they need."

There would be many complications for applications of this technology in the developing world: training and counterfeiting come to mind, not to mention cost. Today, the printers that assemble these drugs cost $2,000 each, not counting the chemical inputs.

But that's already a lot cheaper than a pharmacist.

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