Jan 19, 2018 | By Benedict

Researchers from Scotland’s University of Glasgow have devised a method for 3D printing interconnected reaction vessels that carry out separate chemical reactions. The 3D printed reactionware could be used to make print-at-home pharmaceuticals and chemicals.

Imagine a future in which the average person is able to concoct their own medicines at home, in the same way they are able to download an MP3 and put play it from their smartphone. That future could be nearer than we think, because researchers have found a way to 3D print substance-specific chemical reaction apparatus than can be used to create drugs, chemicals, and other products.

The research is being led by Leroy Cronin, the Regius Professor of Chemistry in the School of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom. Cronin’s research group has modified an Ultimaker 3D printer to synthesize pharmaceuticals and other chemicals from widely available starting compounds. The 3D printer could allow people to fabricate all sorts of useful substances at home, in the office, or elsewhere.

According to Cronin and colleagues, the team has been able to 3D print a series of interconnected reaction vessels that carry out four different chemical reactions involving 12 separate steps. These steps cover everything from filtration to the evaporation of different solutions.

In their experiments, they found they could create a muscle relaxant called baclofen from widely available starting compounds, including methyl 4-chloro-cinnamate. But by using different reagents and solvents at different times and in a different order, they could create a whole variety of useful drugs and chemicals. Other successful reactions carried out in the study produced an anticonvulsant and a drug to fight ulcers and acid reflux.

For the baclofen synthesis, the team used five 3D printed cylindrical modules, each with a capacity of 32 ml and an opening at the top for material input. A second opening in each module allowed the chemist to apply pressure, forcing the substance through further openings on the underside of the modules. The 3D printed vessels also contained ports for the introduction of nitrogen, which can provide reactions with inert atmospheres.

In total, this customized 3D printed reactor setup was able to carry out three reactions, two liquid-liquid extractions, and a set of evaporations and filtrations to create the muscle relaxant.

Cronin says that 3D printing is essential to this process as it allows the user to get absolute precision. “This approach will allow the on-demand production of chemicals and drugs that are in short supply, hard to make at big facilities, and allow customization to tailor them to the application,” says the chemist, who believes the on-demand nature of the process could encourage the production of more obscure drugs, experimental compounds for groundbreaking research, and drugs needed in remote places.

Another potential advantage of this 3D printed reactionware is the improved wellbeing of organic chemists. Generally, chemists need to oversee synthesis, but risk exposure to dangerous reagents by doing so. 3D printing the entire system, Cronin says, would “allow organic chemists to focus on creating new molecules” while keeping them out of the chemical crossfire.

Of course, the potential pitfalls area of “print-at home” drugs barely need spelling out. Cronin is aware that such a 3D printing system might be liable to misuse, allowing rogue chemists to concoct illegal or dangerous drugs, but the University of Glasgow professor remains confident that the positives of the process outweigh the negatives.

For one, Cronin thinks that a regulated reactionware market could help stamp out drug counterfeiting, a serious problem in which criminals replace the active pharmaceutical ingredients in a prescription drug with inert or even dangerous compounds. In some developing countries, as many as 30 per cent of all distributed medicines are counterfeit, and 3D printed reactionware could help tackle that problem by ensuring that each reactionware can produce just a single medicine.

Nonetheless, the worry that 3D printed reactionware in the wrong hands could be concocting potentially harmful compounds remains a worry. Cronin’s solution? Devise a kind of validation kit, a bit like a home pregnancy test, that can be used to test the contents of a compound after its creation and provide a visual readout. Clearly, there are hurdles to overcome, but the research sounds highly promising.

The findings of the study have been detailed in a research paper, “Digitization of multistep organic synthesis in reactionware for on-demand pharmaceuticals,” which has been published in Science. Its other authors were Philip J. Kitson, Guillaume Marie, Jean-Patrick Francoia, Sergey S. Zalesskiy, Ralph C. Sigerson, and Jennifer S. Mathieson.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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