For many, 3D printing is still a fairly new technology. Truth of the matter is, 3D printing has been a thriving industry for 10+ years now, and innovators are asking what it can do for healthcare. 

Much like the original printing press was a gateway to an explosion of technological advancements, Dr. Sharon Flank joins our futures community to help us understand the promise of 3D-printing for accessible personalized medicine. 

Dr. Flank specializes in the development of solutions based on spectroscopy, a key technology behind 3D-printing. She has also authored numerous journal articles—including publications on anti-counterfeiting, artificial intelligence, and 3-D printing—and holds 10 patents. 

Throughout her work she has seen a trend that concerns her -- in order for physicians to treat as many patients as possible, modern-day medicine has become a standardized practice. Unfortunately, patients themselves are far from being standard. This approach results in a long trial-and-error process that often causes more harm than relief - especially in hard to treat conditions. Patients should not have to feel like lab experiments when they are seeking treatment -- Dr. Flank has seen how personalized medicine can offer an alternative. 

And this future may be closer than we think - the first 3D printed prescription drug to treat epilepsy is already available on the U.S. market from Aprecia Pharmaceuticals. Levetiracetam (Spritam) was approved by FDA in 2015 as a treatment for partial onset seizures, myoclonic seizures, and primary generalized tonic-clonic seizures. 

So, why aren't these therapies more accessible for other illnesses? 

What are the challenges ahead?

From prototyping prosthetics to producing functional respirators during the current pandemic, personal health has a lot to gain from 3D-printing technology. But can it be leveraged safely on the molecular level to print drugs? 

As Dr. Flank shares, quality control is the biggest challenge ahead - we need to ensure the drugs printed are the same every time. She reasons that we have the tools required to breach this “quality hurdle” as pharmaceutical companies already use spectroscopy -- a light-powered technique -- to check drugs. These technologies are now becoming compact enough to fit inside 3D-printers, welcoming a new era of personalized medicine. 

For Dr. Flank, personalized medicine is not a matter of if but when, and how soon. Tune in to hear more about the possibilities when big data and medicine collide: 

Keep learning with us!

Explore our growing content library and filter by the topics that impact your work! We've interviewed global experts from over 7 countries to understand the trends and tensions in the future of digital health.

We’re also excited to present the Bowhead Futures Digest: a newsletter for leaders looking to learn, debate, and co-create a future where technology & data empower our health.