Professor Lee Cronin heads up a world-class team of 45 researchers at Glasgow University in Scotland. His team has figured out how to turn a 3D printer into a sort of universal chemistry set capable of “printing” prescription drugs via downloadable chemistry. Professor Cronin’s latest TED talk dealt with the simple question: “Can we make a really cool universal chemistry set?” and “Can we ‘app’ chemistry?” He thinks in terms of “what Apple did for music,” he’d like to do for the discovery and distribution of prescription drugs.
As a first step, Cronin’s team is looking at ways in which a relatively simple drug – ibuprofen – can be produced with his 3D printer or “chemputer”. If they can accomplish that, the possibilities suddenly seem endless.
“Imagine your printer like a refrigerator that is full of all the ingredients you might require to make any recipe in a giant new cook book,” Cronin says. “If you apply that idea to making drugs, you have all your ingredients and you follow a recipe that a drug company gives you. The value is in the recipe, not in the manufacturing of it. It is essentially an app.”
As with many future trends, developed with the best of intentions, “the “Chemputer” will have the ability to produce illegal narcotics with no discernable chemical trail.”
An open source drug movement may very well be as dramatic a shift to societal norms as the Internet itself. Professor Cronin is a naturally impatient person and wants to quickly expand the possibilities. “As well as transforming the industry and making money,” he says, “we could be saving lives. So why should we wait?”