English-Video.net comment policy

The comment field is common to all languages

Let's write in your language and use "Google Translate" together

Please refer to informative community guidelines on TED.com

TEDGlobal 2012

Lee Cronin: Print your own medicine

Filmed
Views 992,569

Chemist Lee Cronin is working on a 3D printer that, instead of objects, is able to print molecules. An exciting potential long-term application: printing your own medicine using chemical inks.

- Chemist
A professor of chemistry, nanoscience and chemical complexity, Lee Cronin and his research group investigate how chemistry can revolutionize modern technology and even create life. Full bio

Organic chemists make molecules,
00:16
very complicated molecules,
00:19
by chopping up a big molecule into small molecules
00:21
and reverse engineering.
00:24
And as a chemist,
00:26
one of the things I wanted to ask my research group a couple of years ago is,
00:27
could we make a really cool universal chemistry set?
00:31
In essence, could we "app" chemistry?
00:35
Now what would this mean, and how would we do it?
00:40
Well to start to do this,
00:43
we took a 3D printer
00:45
and we started to print our beakers and our test tubes on one side
00:47
and then print the molecule at the same time on the other side
00:51
and combine them together in what we call reactionware.
00:55
And so by printing the vessel and doing the chemistry at the same time,
00:58
we may start to access this universal toolkit of chemistry.
01:03
Now what could this mean?
01:08
Well if we can embed biological and chemical networks like a search engine,
01:09
so if you have a cell that's ill that you need to cure
01:15
or bacteria that you want to kill,
01:18
if you have this embedded in your device
01:20
at the same time, and you do the chemistry,
01:22
you may be able to make drugs in a new way.
01:24
So how are we doing this in the lab?
01:28
Well it requires software, it requires hardware
01:30
and it requires chemical inks.
01:33
And so the really cool bit is,
01:36
the idea is that we want to have a universal set of inks
01:37
that we put out with the printer,
01:40
and you download the blueprint, the organic chemistry for that molecule
01:43
and you make it in the device.
01:47
And so you can make your molecule in the printer using this software.
01:50
So what could this mean?
01:55
Well, ultimately, it could mean that you could print your own medicine.
01:58
And this is what we're doing in the lab at the moment.
02:03
But to take baby steps to get there,
02:05
first of all we want to look at drug design and production,
02:06
or drug discovery and manufacturing.
02:09
Because if we can manufacture it after we've discovered it,
02:12
we could deploy it anywhere.
02:15
You don't need to go to the chemist anymore.
02:17
We can print drugs at point of need.
02:19
We can download new diagnostics.
02:22
Say a new super bug has emerged.
02:24
You put it in your search engine,
02:26
and you create the drug to treat the threat.
02:28
So this allows you on-the-fly molecular assembly.
02:31
But perhaps for me the core bit going into the future
02:35
is this idea of taking your own stem cells,
02:38
with your genes and your environment,
02:41
and you print your own personal medicine.
02:43
And if that doesn't seem fanciful enough,
02:46
where do you think we're going to go?
02:48
Well, you're going to have your own personal matter fabricator.
02:50
Beam me up, Scotty.
02:55
(Applause)
02:57
Translated by Timothy Covell
Reviewed by Morton Bast

▲Back to top

About the speaker:

Lee Cronin - Chemist
A professor of chemistry, nanoscience and chemical complexity, Lee Cronin and his research group investigate how chemistry can revolutionize modern technology and even create life.

Why you should listen

Lee Cronin's lab at the University of Glasgow does cutting-edge research into how complex chemical systems, created from non-biological building blocks, can have real-world applications with wide impact. At TEDGlobal 2012, Cronin shared some of the lab's latest work: creating a 3D printer for molecules. This device -- which has been prototyped -- can download plans for molecules and print them, in the same way that a 3D printer creates objects. In the future, Cronin says this technology could potentially be used to print medicine -- cheaply and wherever it is needed. As Cronin says: "What Apple did for music, I'd like to do for the discovery and distribution of prescription drugs."

At TEDGlobal 2011, Cronin shared his lab's bold plan to create life. At the moment, bacteria is the minimum unit of life -- the smallest chemical unit that can undergo evolution. But in Cronin's emerging field, he's thinking about forms of life that won't be biological. To explore this, and to try to understand how life itself originated from chemicals, Cronin and others are attempting to create truly artificial life from completely non-biological chemistries that mimic the behavior of natural cells. They call these chemical cells, or Chells. 

Cronin's research interests also encompass self-assembly and self-growing structures -- the better to assemble life at nanoscale. At the University of Glasgow, this work on crystal structures is producing a raft of papers from his research group. He says: "Basically one of my longstanding research goals is to understand how life emerged on planet Earth and re-create the process."

Read the papers referenced in his TEDGlobal 2102 talk:

Integrated 3D-printed reactionware for chemical synthesis and analysis, Nature Chemistry

Configurable 3D-Printed millifluidic and microfluidic ‘lab on a chip’ reactionware devices, Lab on a Chip

More profile about the speaker
Lee Cronin | Speaker | TED.com