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10 Ways 3-D Printing Could Change the World


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DIY Pharmaceuticals
Matthew Plummer-Fernandez used software to scan and distort the algorithms of everyday objects in a 3-D printer to create beautiful works of art, like this one on display at the 2012 London 3D Printshow. © Veronika Lukasova/ZUMA Press/Corbis
Matthew Plummer-Fernandez used software to scan and distort the algorithms of everyday objects in a 3-D printer to create beautiful works of art, like this one on display at the 2012 London 3D Printshow. © Veronika Lukasova/ZUMA Press/Corbis

With a little tinkering, a 3-D printer can be rigged to spray pharmaceutical ingredients instead of plastic or metal layers and generate chemical reactions, which could open the way to custom-printing medicines. In 2012, University of Glasgow researchers used a 3-D printer to create a range of compounds, including some used in cancer treatments [source: BBC].

"In the future, you could buy common chemicals, slot them into something that 3-D prints, just press a button to mix the ingredients and filter them through the architecture and at the bottom you would get out your prescription drug," researcher Mark Symes explained at the time.

DIY pharmaceuticals someday might reduce the cost of health care, but the technology also could have some risks, because people may choose to forego medical supervision. Worse yet, law enforcement agencies will have a tough time preventing drug abusers from downloading designs and printing the substances of their choice — a future foretold by a recent Vice article, entitled, "In the Future, Your Drug Dealer Will Be a Printer" [source: Holmes].