This product image provided by Aprecia Pharmaceuticals shows Spritam 750 mg, foreground, and 1,000 mg tablets. The pill is manufactured in a layered process via 3-D printing and dissolves when taken with liquid. (Aprecia Pharmaceuticals via AP)

“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 future of health care, now in 3-D]

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.

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