Recently I watched a TED talk about the problems with how we medicate people and how 3D printing can help. You can watch it here, however for those of you that just want a quick synopsis here it is:
Dr. Daniel Kraft talks about the method we use to medicate patients, which has remained virtually unchanged at its core. Basically, people are given various prescriptions in varying dosages and they must remember which ones to take, which days, and in which quantities, which sometimes involved sawing pills in halves or quarters to get the right dosage. The biggest breakthrough in helping people organise their pills has been little pill boxes with the days of the week printed on them. The issue, besides having to remember to organise all your pills accordingly, is that many people are getting the wrong dosage of certain medications. Medicine works best when it’s tailored to the exact milligram that a patient needs. However, this is rarely accomplished using traditional methods, meaning many people are not getting the ideal relief for their ailments (or even aren’t feeling relief at all).
However Dr. Kraft has invented a method of dosing which combines AI technology with 3D printing. He demonstrates how AI can be used to exactly analyse a person’s body composition, using various non-intrusive body monitors. Using this information, a doctor could prescribe the precise dosage of various combinations of medication. Okay so now a doctor can precisely prescribe these drugs, but what happens when it comes to filling these prescriptions in pharmacies?
Dr. Kraft then shows how a 3D printer can be modified to 3D print exact quantities of drugs. The printer has tubes of different drugs; when the printer is given a prescription, it can 3D print the exact dosage of the drug in a single pill by pulling the drugs from the various tubes (really the best way to envision this is to see how it’s done in the TED talk).
Okay so now I’ve summarised what the technology is. Now the question is how can it be used in the future. Well first, this technology in itself is hardly beyond the prototype phase. But let’s look at its potential and how it impacts the future of healthcare, specifically as it pertains to development.
This technology has the potential to democratise healthcare to a level unseen now. The AI aspect of it can allow those in difficult to reach places to receive diagnoses by trained, professional doctors. Think Doctors Without Borders but without some of the traditional barriers which deter doctors from partaking. A doctor could volunteer their time and expertise without leaving the comfort of their own practice.
Now the medication aspect take it a step further. With or without the AI aspect of it, 3D printing of drugs can make top quality medication more accessible. While I by no means would say I’m an expert on this technology and its implications for the stability and transportability of various drugs, it is worth further investigating how 3D printers can produce mobile pharmacies. Dr. Kraft has already shown how his original prototype can be reduced in size to make it more transportable. He demonstrates how this could be something used in someone’s home instead of just in medical practices. For development, making these machines portable means they have the potential to be used in areas where it is difficult to treat and medicate patients, or where demand fluxes (think refugee camps and areas in continued conflict). Thus this technology will be altering how the medical field operates as a whole.
Health is something which underscores so many other sectors of a populations well-being. From education to economics, when a population is healthy they are able to participate in enjoying a better quality of life. The potential is really limitless when it comes to AI and 3D printings impact on healthcare and the overall well-being of people as a whole.