Microsoft talks up using printers to make drugs

Instead of ink, people might someday put the ingredients of different medications into printer cartridges as part of a do-it-yourself model of health care, said Craig Mundie

In the not-too-distant future, people could use computer printers to make simple medicines as part of a do-it-yourself model of health care, a top Microsoft executive said Friday.

Printers are already liquid delivery systems, but instead of ink, people might someday put the ingredients of different medications into printer cartridges, said Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer at Microsoft, in a speech in Jakarta, Indonesia on Friday.

The drugstore-in-a-box, as he called it, would be part of several devices that could increasingly use information technology for health diagnosis and treatment.

In an example, he envisioned a mobile phone that also contained breath analysis technology like that used to detect alcohol in the breath of drunk drivers today. But instead of just alcohol, the technology would be tweaked to determine a lot about a person's health. The handset could analyze a person's breath for diseases, chemical imbalances and other troubles, and then a clinic could provide a diagnosis.

The mobile phone user might then go to a clinic so they could print out the medication. The computer would assess the person's weight, sex and other factors to determine the right combination of ingredients to treat the ailment, then print out a sheet of "tablets." The person would then peel them off like mailing labels and let them dissolve in their mouth, Mundie said.

Such technology is not available today, and Microsoft said it's just an idea.

But Mundie said the technology sector is poised to come up with novel ways to improve healthcare. He pointed to examples in recent history where people once had to go to the doctor but can now diagnose themselves at home, such as using home pregnancy tests.

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