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Printing prescription pills out of your smartphone…

The digital prescription we receive today on our smartphone can be used to 3D-print customised pills in the near future. Image credit: Xiaoyan Xu et al, UCL

As we are progressing towards personalised healthcare that can be supported from remote our smartphone is becoming a key component in the value chain. We have already seen several examples of using the smartphone as a diagnostic device by having apps making sense of the data that it can capture (directly through its embedded sensors, the mike and the photo-camera being the most used ones, or indirectly by attaching special sensors to it). Of course a straightforward way is to use the smartphone to set up a video-call with our physician and let her look at us (and hear us, of course) and sort out the symptoms into a diagnoses.

Clearly the smartphone (this is my case) can receive the doctor’s prescriptions and these can be handed over to the pharmacists to get the pills. It can also be used to remind you that it is time to swallow a pill and to record that you actually took it and monitor some of the effects.

What researchers at the University College of London are proposing is to use the smartphone to actually prepare the pills for you! Of course a smartphone all by itself cannot do that, like it cannot prepare coffee. However, it can easily request a cup of coffee from your coffee machines (assuming that coffee machine can be operated from remote! Yes, there are plenty of them, some can even roast the beans to your taste, all controlled via your smartphone).

So, the UCL researchers reasoned: if you can make coffee with your smartphone why don’t use it to make custom medicines? And here you go!

They are proposing a 3D printer that can be used to produce a variety of pills (even in different shapes and colours!) with the smartphone orchestrating the design of the pill based on the digital prescription received by your doctor. Notice that, in principle, your smartphone, by knowing a lot about you, your DNA, your medical history, your activity  in the previous hours/days could in principle adapt the digital prescription to the specific situation by changing the doses of the various substances that will go into the pill. Clearly, it is not your smartphone as such but an app (let’s hope a certified app) that can analyse all factors leading to the best mixture of substances.

Actually, this would be the real value of using your smartphone: the production of customised pills meeting the specific needs of the moment!

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.