New printer types are taking health care by storm

January 31, 20184 Minute Read

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You probably never thought your local pharmacy was a particularly cool place, right? Well, thanks to futuristic, new printer types that can actually print medicine, you may be able to get a prescription, walk right up to the pharmacist, and watch your drugs get printed for you right on the spot. Now, that sounds cool.

Researchers at the University of Michigan are developing 3D-printing techniques for issuing pure, custom-dose medications at pharmacies, hospitals, and physicians’ offices—i.e., anywhere you can get your meds. This could cut down on wait time for getting prescriptions and make it much easier to access them, too. There’s a whole new world waiting to take the health care 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—yes, we’re potentially stepping into the brave new world of personalized drugs. This tech could 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 work, though? Having adapted a technology from electronics manufacturing called organic vapor-jet printing, this new printer vaporizes medicines and combines them with an inert, gas-like nitrogen, then prints them onto a dissolvable strip, microneedle patch, or another dosing device.

This technique helps medications dissolve easily, which could allow pharmaceutical companies to release drugs they’ve shelved because they were incompatible 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 introduce new types of drugs that couldn’t be created until now.

The good folks at the University of Michigan say this technology is still a few years away from the marketplace, but 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, you should consider some of the risks involved with such new, bold forms of 3D printing.

Anticipate the risks of 3D printing

The idea of 3D-printed medicine is exciting, without a doubt, but don’t gloss over the fact that there could be major risks associated with this technology, too. 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 silently change the dose of a medication to trigger a cardiac arrest or a similarly violent reaction—and no one would be the wiser.

Security researcher Daniel Regalado voiced this exact concern when he discussed the importance of IoT cybersecurity and explained how easily IV pumps could be hacked. Other innovations, like 3D-printed organs, 3D-printed prosthetics, and 3D-printed implants, are at similar risk of nefarious attacks. Restaurants are serving up 3D-printed food that faces the same vulnerabilities as 3D-printed medicine—a diner tucks into their meal, not knowing that a hacker altered it behind the scenes, and chaos ensues. Not to freak you out even further, but now that 3D-printed cars are a thing, too, it’s not hard to imagine a bad actor slipping a design flaw into a file that ultimately compromises the car a diner drives home after that meal.

This type of 3D-printing innovation certainly comes with both pros and cons that span far beyond the health care sector. While this technology presents tremendous opportunities to better our 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 secure printing. Hackers know that many folks tend to think of printers as not all that essential to cybersecurity, so they can take advantage of lax printer security when staging exploits and executing breaches.

This threat calls for the services of a new breed of printers that feature continuous security monitoring, threat detection and response, and even self-healing features that 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 using a positive technology for more sinister purposes.

These are thrilling times in which a lot of incredible examples of printing innovation come out fast and furious, and any nerd worth their salt can tell that advancements, like 3D-printed medicine, will deliver far more efficient, effective, and convenient care. To take advantage of the opportunities these breakthroughs offer, though, technology pros should take prudent steps to secure their printing environments. This way, you can confidently stride into the 3D-printed future and make the most of all it offers.

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