It is for more than one reason why people on long term medications seem to be frustrated regarding modern medicine. Prescription drugs for many common diseases are unnecessarily costly and not affordable. Those residing in developing countries do not have access to the medicines they need so desperately. This leads to the rise of black market trading of these drugs, which can be dangerous, unreliable and is depriving government from precious taxes and revenue.
3D printing and rapid prototyping can solve only a portion of these problems. In medicine, rapid prototyping creates personalized, custom solutions that are best suited to the needs of every patient. The printing materials are comparatively inexpensive and lighter than what is traditionally available. Another amazing fact is that rapid prototyping can be done anywhere if the printer is portable; hence remote locations are not a problem anymore.
Artificial Limbs and Rapid Prototyping
Whenever there is exciting rapid prototyping news in the media, there is immediately a lot of hype about the newly discovered miracle. However, one of the most popular examples is the creation of prosthetic limbs and sophisticated casts which can heal damaged limbs up to eighty percent faster than normal plaster casts. These prosthetic limbs and casts have been used for both animal and human patients, and the successful cases have drawn much attention of the international scientific community.
According to Autodesk’s 3D printing and rapid prototyping expert Jesse Harrington-Au, the reason why these 3D printed artificial limbs are gaining traction has three interesting facets.
The success stories of rapid prototyping does not stop there. There are a host of possibilities for personalization, meaning that one could print out artificial limbs which behave closer to human limbs or even surpassing human limbs in ability for superhuman results. A heat sensor, if printed onto an artificial arm could help patients feel the sensations of hot and cold. 3D printed legs fitted with trackers could help users feel more in control of their bodies. Experts believe that there will soon be prosthetics fitted with sensors and specialized electronics- such as heart rate monitors, heat sensors, torch or even fitness trackers. These additional sensors not only help enhance the user experiences, but will also assist in the creation of more human-like limbs for the future.
3D Printed Pills
Pills made with 3D printing technology has been an area with a great deal of research and attention along with the designs that they come in. In the United States last year, the first ever 3D printed drug was approved by the FDA. In the near future, we can definitely expect to see all kinds of medicines printed for cheap, quick and on demand. The reason behind the attention that this sector has been getting is that there remain many pressing challenges in regards to distribution and creation of medication.
In order to administer certain drugs in specified ways, the shapes need to be customized for different conditions. Moreover, cutting down expenses, prevention of counterfeiting of drugs and tailoring medicines to the needs of the patient are some of the advantages of rapid prototyping and 3D printing technologies in the pharmaceutical industry. According to pharmaceutical expert Simon Shen, the real advantage of rapid prototyping and 3D printing in the industry is that there are ample opportunities for personalization. A wide range of unusually shaped pills can be produced through 3D printing, which would be otherwise difficult for standard techniques of production. These customized medicines can be adjusted as required for the needs of different patients. Some patients need gradual treatment of diseases for a long period of time; others need rapid relief from pain and so on. When drugs are printed in different shapes, the way they work can be changed. 3D printed drugs are able to create specific shapes of medicines that are specific to these needs.
A dedicated team of researchers of Nottingham University, led by Clive Roberts, has been busy developing a 3D printed polypill, i.e. a single medicine that contains more than one drug. These drugs in a single pill are going to have separate release profiles. Many patients need to take more than half a dozen pills a day, such as senior citizens or HIV positive patients. This polypill can prove beneficial to them.
There are a few drawbacks when it comes to rapid prototyping of drugs, and they seem to be pretty obvious problems. One of the first concerns would be that of substance abusers printing out narcotic drugs. In an age where everything is in open source and readily available online; people will be using 3D printing technology to print out narcotic drugs. After all, 3D printed guns being used are not unheard of. Hence the 3D printing of drugs can be a successful venture if the systems are highly regulated and monitored by medical experts, pharmacists and physicians.
According to Professor Lee Cronin of University of Glasgow, anyone can readily make all sorts of harmful drugs if they had access to the equipment and chemicals. It would take them a lot of time, they could get into serious trouble, and it would still be illegal to make drugs like that. According to him, 3D printing would not fundamentally change anything as many things are possible illegally anyway. However, it does aim to lower the cost of manufacturing of drugs.
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