Daniel Mendoza ’21 explores the realm of modern technology, especially the potential of 3D printing to make medical breakthroughs.
Ease of access to growing technology is what people seem attracted to the most in the modern world. Instant streaming of content, constant updates on social media, two-day free shipping on Amazon are a few of the things many in society demand. By developing new technologies, we increase quality of life and generally make people’s lives easier. One of the most impressive and versatile pieces of technology is the 3D printer, which has many applications in the medical world.
Being able to print an object out on a whim is seemingly magical, but a lot of work has gone behind it to bring it into practical use–most interestingly in medicine. There are quite a few ways 3D printing could be items like prosthetics, 3D printing can be relatively easy and extremely cost effective. There are already organizations, such as e-NABLE, that are focused on accessibility of 3D printing for prosthetics all over the world. Individual pieces must be printed from an engineered design, then assembled to create the product. For now, the prosthetics are not very advanced and there are no reliable materials that are being used yet. The most innovative part of it all is that anyone that can get their hands on a 3D printer has access to the blueprints and can even create and submit their own. Programs like these create temporary accessible solutions at little cost. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
As time goes on, we are technologically getting more and more advanced. With the invention of the 3D printer science fiction starts to blend with science fact. Organ transplants themselves are already astounding. The idea of taking entire failing sections of the body and replacing them with healthier parts is absurd. Despite the absurdity, in 2016, over 33,000 transplants were performed, over 90 a day, in the United States alone. Sadly, as opposed to living donations, the majority of transplants are through deceased donations. Sadder still, there are tens of thousands who stay on a waiting list. This is where 3D printing comes in. Structures made of metals and plastics are relatively simple to make and they are currently the main materials used. In place of this there is a brilliant idea to use cells are the “ink” and create blueprints of organs from high resolution MRI. This ranges across all kinds of organs–from skin to kidneys, livers, and hearts. Researchers believe that all of these could become possible. There are already trials for patch versions of these organs that show promising results.
Of the many medical uses for 3D printers, the creation of pills is the most relevant Surveys found that nearly 70% of Americans take prescription drugs and more have probably taken nonprescription drugs. Needless to say, the demand for drugs is high in America and 3D printers would add to the accessibility. Pharmacies would have an easier time getting the drugs necessary for their clients, potentially lowering costs. Not only this but also drugs could be printed to exact dosages, reducing the amount of necessary pills. Researchers have even looked into the most efficient shape a pill can be, allowing it to be absorbed faster. Through 3D printing, the advancement of drug dispensement becomes much easier than ever before and could reach many more than printing’s other uses.
Printing organs, prosthetics, and drugs don’t have any intended malice and each could impact the world for the better, but with advancement come a few implications. Of these three uses, the accessibility of drugs is the most worrying. With easy access to drugs comes a possibility of abuse. The number of Americans taking prescription drugs could increase dramatically and even leak into illegal usage. In fact, there are other forms of new technology that have already led to this. With its ability to connect us, the Internet has increased access to both the good and bad. A paper in the International Journal of Collaborative Research on Internal Medicine & Public Health points out:
“Among the herbal supplements sold on net, 48% has been found to be likened to illicit drugs such as marijuana and ecstasy. With just a click away, both first time drug user and chronic drug abuser are able to have drugs delivered to their doorstep. This is greatly favored by the individuals involved as both the sellers and the buyers get to maintain their anonymity. Furthermore, through internet, chronic drug abusers get to keep in contact with drug sellers to ensure continuous source of drugs.”
In this case, the internet itself has become problematic, allowing access of drugs to more people and potentially causing further damage to public health. We are still years away from the ability to mass produce any of these products, but we must understand the dangers of access while trials and tests are going on. Although the world is consistently improving through technology, some of their accessibility must be regulated for the better of society.
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