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Health Care of the Future

One of the signs that the blue model is fading away is that individuals are increasingly taking responsibility for their own employment and livelihood, at the expense of the large bureaucracies that currently dominate the marketplace. The same process is underway in health care, albeit at a slower pace.

One new development, however, may speed things up: 3d printers with the ability to create their own prescription drugs. Tecca reports that researchers at the University of Glasgow have modified a commercially available 3d printer to use pharmaceutical chemicals, allowing them to manufacture drugs that could rival those of major brands. At $2,000 a piece (plus the cost of materials and modification), these printers are not far out of the reach of the average consumer and will become even more affordable as the technology spreads and prices come down.

The innovation could expand access to expensive cancer drugs, allowing pharmacies to fill prescriptions for patients on demand or even allowing patients to print their own medicine from home. According to Cronin, “we could use 3D printers to revolutionize access to health care in the developing world, allowing diagnosis and treatment to happen in a much more efficient and economical way than is possible now.”

This particular project may or may not pan out, but something like it will. The trendlines are pointing in the direction of individuals bypassing traditional systems to take control of their own health care. This will happen even faster if we have a health care system that makes cost a factor for consumers.

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  • thibaud

    “at the expense of the large bureaucracies that currently dominate the marketplace”

    This is really sloppy and, in the case of pharmaceuticals especially, very silly. The high price of prescription drugs is of course not due to manufacturing costs but the amortized cost of their intellectual property. Typically, a blockbuster drug will cost over a billion – yes, with a “b” – dollars to bring to market from initial research through clinical trials and FDA approval.

    This is Mead’s futurism at its most embarrassing. What he so carelessly calls “bureaucracies” are in fact the extraordinarily talented R&D and product marketing and legal and bizdev teams at global pharma giants such as Merck, Pfizer, AstraZenica etc.

    Most of these companies have been around for nearly a century. 3D printing and do-it-yourselfer internet hobbyists will not in any way affect these companies’ ability to endure and thrive and continue to bring forth the world’s cutting-edge drugs for many decades to come.

  • Jeff Medcalf

    Of course, these would immediately be strictly regulated and controlled along with all knowledge of how to do the modifications and all the precursor chemicals, in the name of preventing them from making meth and similar drugs, and for that matter all prescription drugs generally. The technology would still get into the hands of the illicit drug makers, of course, but that wouldn’t cause the ban to be lifted to bring down the cost of legal drugs.

  • Brett

    I’m with Jeff – drug-making 3D printers would be ripe for regulation and licensing designed to keep them in hospital and clinics (and not producing illegal drugs and unauthorized versions of patented drugs). I don’t like it, but it’s what will likely happen.

    Of course, the technology would be great even in hospitals and clinics if they can print the legal generic versions of most drugs.

  • Luke Lea

    Reminds me of the prediction of flexible, roll-up laptops.

    As for the future of medicine, there was the ER waiting room scene in Idiocracy. Can’t find it on YouTube but this one is what follows:

  • Kansas Scott

    The future is already here for those who are familiar with the new 100+ Flavor Coke Freestyle Machine (

    I realize that a vanilla-grape-coke is not exactly Provenge or some other exotic cancer treatment but the concept is similar. Mainly though it’s a really fun machine that further proves that you cannot have too many choices.

  • WCOG

    Considering the insane amount of trouble we had at my university manufacturing a fairly simple part (a large hemispherical latex bladder for use in a simulated propellant tank) on our rapid prototyper, I’m not holding my breath. This was a group of very, very smart kids but we basically had to go back to the company that manufactured the thing and work with the design engineers to figure out what was wrong (FWIW it turned out the machine was laying down the compound in layers that were too thick and it was curing unevenly, resulting in strata that failed under test conditions). It took us weeks to figure this out and we ended up just making the darn things by hand with a mold and paintbrush; unless there’s some kind of exponential evolution in user-friendliness over the next couple of years, I wouldn’t expect rapid-prototypers to show up in the home any time soon.

  • Jimmy

    So, Primatene Mist could make a homegrown comeback?

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