During the first Star Trek series released in the mid 1960s, the creators introduced viewers to several magical devices – the Communicator, the Padd, the Replicator, and the Transporter. Although building the latter device requires the repeal of several of the laws of physics, the other three commonly exist today for the public to use. Smart phones are the Communicator of today allowing us to speak, text, or email to anyone around the world who might have a similar device. The Padd is my Nook – it even looks like it and makes the same sound when dropped on a desk – or your iPad or similar tablet device. Finally, the Replicator is nothing other than a three dimensional (3D) printer, a device just entering the world of consumer products.
All 3D printing works from a digital file or blueprint that directs the building of the object. Some printers use tiny nozzles that deposit layers as thin as 0.1 mm in thickness from material contained in their “printer cartridges.” Other 3D printers use laser beams or tiny droplets of glue to fuse thin layers of plastic or material dust into solid objects.
Bioprinting represents the next step in 3D printing. Instead of materials, living cells fill the cartridges of the 3D printer. Cell by cell and layer by layer, these bioprinters deposit specific living cells chosen to perform a particular function in a pattern that allows them to perform a designed task.
3D printing offers the opportunity to print pharmaceuticals specifically produced to meet the needs of individual patients. A 3D printer with cartridges loaded with the pharmaceuticals required by the patient could print a pill that contains exactly the right amount of each of a patient’s medications, thereby customizing the drug treatment for the patient.
Excerpts from: Print Me a Pill. PSQH, May/June, 2012