“Imagine your printer like a refrigerator that is full of all the ingredients you might require to make any dish in Jamie Oliver's new book,” chemist Lee Cronin says in a 2012 TedGlobal talk. Cronin, a professor at the University of Glasgow, goes on to describe how this idea could be applied to drugs, such as ibuprofen, by enabling a 3-D printer to follow a recipe given by a pharmaceutical company and produce whatever is needed, on the fly from a set of chemical inks.
Think of it as a "Star Trek" replicator for pills.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration took a major step toward that vision on Monday when it approved the country's first prescription drug made through 3-D printing.
Created by Aprecia Pharmaceuticals, the drug -- called Spritam -- is a dissolvable tablet used to treat certain types of seizures in adults and children with epilepsy. The technology will allow the company to tailor each dose individually -- no measuring or splitting involved.
Doctors are already using customized, 3-D printing to create implants for patients with injuries and are exploring a wide range of other applications, such as printing human tissue and even whole organs. Three years ago, for example, one newborn received a 3-D-printed splint to keep his airway from collapsing.