New healthcare printer technology could print your medicine

May 4, 20185 Minute Read

You’ve probably never thought of your local pharmacy as a place deploying cutting-edge technologies, right? Well, that may change soon. Thanks to new healthcare printer technology and futuristic printers with the ability to print medicine, you’ll be able to watch in the not-too-distant future as your pharmacist 3D prints your prescription right on the spot. Now, that sounds cool.

The first approval for the 3D printing of a specific drug was granted in 2015—a dissolvable tablet for treating seizures in children and adults. Researchers at the University of Michigan in the United States have taken this approval one step further by developing 3D-printing techniques for issuing pure, custom-dose medications at pharmacies, hospitals, and physicians’ offices—i.e., anywhere you would normally pick up your meds. This could cut down on wait time for getting prescriptions and make it much easier to access them, too.

This reality may happen even sooner than you think: Experts have predicted it will be possible to 3D print a fully functioning heart within the next 20 years, so if science is that close to such a feat, the ability to 3D print medicine is definitely within a few years’ reach. There’s a whole new world of healthcare printer technology waiting to take the industry by storm—so let’s dive in and learn all about what’s coming around the bend.

Print medicine on demand

On-demand medicine printing could revolutionize how medicine is manufactured and delivered today. Pharmacists could customize the dosage of a prescription as needed, even based on individual biology. That’s right—healthcare is potentially stepping into the brave new world of personalized drugs. This technology could even theoretically combine multiple medications into a single dose—a major win for people with several different prescriptions. It would also decentralize the medicine production process, empowering pharmacies and doctor’s offices in remote places to deliver rapid, effective, and affordable care.

How does it actually work, though? Having adapted a technology from electronics manufacturing called organic vapour-jet printing, this new healthcare printer technology vapourizes medicines and combines them with an inert gas like nitrogen, then prints them onto a dissolvable strip, microneedle patch, or other dosing device. This technique helps medications dissolve easily, which could allow pharmaceutical companies to release drugs that have been shelved due to incompatibility with pills and capsules. It’s already been successfully tested for cancer medications, but it should work with a wide variety of other compounds, as well. In other words, 3D-printed medicine may even make it possible to introduce new types of drugs that couldn’t be created until now.

At the rate this technology is already progressing, it won’t be long before your friendly local pharmacist is whipping up a batch of custom meds for you on demand. While you’re waiting for that day, let’s give some thought to the potential risks involved with this bold new form of 3D printing.

Anticipate the risks of 3D printing

The idea of 3D-printed medicine is exciting, without a doubt, but let’s not gloss over the fact that it’s a technology that could be vulnerable to major risks. If these new printer types were hacked, the results could prove completely devastating, leading to gruesome—or even fatal—results for patients. This time, rather than pilfering data, a malicious hacker could stealthily change the dose of a medication to trigger a cardiac arrest or a similarly violent reaction—and no one would be the wiser.

Other innovations, like 3D-printed organs, 3D-printed prosthetics, and 3D-printed implants, are at similar risk of nefarious attacks. Restaurants serving up 3D-printed food could face the same vulnerabilities as 3D-printed medicine—a diner tucks into a meal, unaware a hacker has altered it behind the scenes, and chaos ensues. At the risk of freaking you out even further, now that 3D-printed cars are a thing, it’s not hard to imagine a bad actor slipping a design flaw into a file that ultimately compromises the car driven home by that diner after his meal.

This type of 3D-printing innovation certainly comes with pros, cons, and implications spanning far beyond the healthcare sector. While this technology presents tremendous opportunities to better lives and boost business outcomes, it also comes with some scary downsides that could outweigh the amazing benefits if they’re not properly addressed in advance.

Advance toward a 3D-printed future

How can today’s IT professionals best prepare for this future of 3D-printed everything? It all starts with more secure printing. Hackers know many folks tend to think of printers as not essential to cybersecurity, so they can take advantage of lax printer security when staging exploits and executing breaches.

This threat calls for a new breed of printers with capabilities such as continuous security monitoring, threat detection and response, and even self-healing features that can stop an attack before it starts. Armed with smarter, more security-aware printing technology, businesses can have a far better chance of keeping malicious hackers from hijacking a positive technology for more sinister purposes.

These are thrilling times, in which a lot of incredible examples of printing innovation are emerging at an impressive rate. Any nerd worth their salt can tell that advancements, like 3D-printed medicine, have the potential to deliver far more efficient, effective, and convenient care. To take full advantage of the opportunities these breakthroughs offer, though, technology pros must take prudent steps to secure their printing environments. This way, you can stride confidently into the 3D-printed future and make the most of all it offers.

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