Sunday, January 4, 2015

3D Vaccine Printing: The Future of Global Disease Eradication

3D printing has been around for several years but only rather recently emerged as a technology which will likely revolutionize how we provide public health care. Craig Venter, a giant in the field of synthetic biology, predicts the use of 3D printers to print vaccines. This technology would significantly change our concept and implementation of public health infrastructures and likely shift how we currently counter the threat of biological warfare. Venter is working with his team to produce a 3D printed vaccine in under twenty four hours. If this becomes possible and there is no reason to doubt Venter as his past achievements have been stunning, it could mean the end of national strategic stockpiles, one bug one drug development and would significantly impact nations with little or no public health infrastructure.


Photo US News and World Report Doctors Without Borders staff 
treat a patient suspected to be suffering from Ebola in Kampungu, Congo, September, 2007 

Imagine an outbreak of Ebola in a remote village in Uganda or Congo. Currently there is no vaccine or medical counter measures against Ebola although a Canadian team has made significant progress, but assuming a vaccine was available, the standard SoP which is to send in a WHO team, quarantine the village, triage and an epidemiological trace-back, would likely be made obsolete. The applications for conflict medicine would be significant as well. The recent outbreak of WPV1 (polio) in Syria, poses substantial challenges due to instability and war. While vaccine is not in short supply and readily available, conflict and war make delivery and distribution quite challenging. A vaccine produced using a 3D bioprinter, could theoretically make it available in hard to reach areas or areas where security issues inhibit vaccination and implementation of other medical countermeasures. 3D bio-printing is of course not limited to vaccines which are generally more complex to produce, but could be used to produce emergency field pharmaceuticals in war and conflict zones.



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In parts of the world where endemic diseases such as polio have proven difficult to eradicate, this could be a major advancement toward slating highly pathogenic organisms for eradication. It certainly could impact how we provide public health care to populations with little access. Additionally, one could well imagine portable 3D printers which could be deployed to remote areas with no medical support. A team could theoretically be ready to provide vaccination or other medicines virtually on demand anywhere in the world. Not only is it imaginable that diseases could be far more swiftly contained and  eradicated, but diseases which emerge due to catastrophic disaster such as Tsunami or hurricanes,  which typically cause critical delays in medical assistance, could be overcome as well. The time gap between disaster and medical relief could become negligible. Even public health infrastructures in advanced western countries will probably be streamlined from such technology replacing the need for strategic stockpiles.  Deborah Mackenzie has written an excellent article on Craig Venter's plans to 3D print vaccines at: http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2012/10/craig-venter-email-vaccine.html

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