The swine flu epidemic of 2009 wasn’t as bad as many health experts feared, yet around the world the flu killed thousands of people—many of whom would have lived if a vaccine had reached them in time. For 2010 PM Breakthrough Leadership Award winner Craig Venter, that frustration led to inspiration.
According to Wired, Venter was working with Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard during the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, but red tape delayed efforts to get the vaccine out of the city and stem the spread of the virus. For Venter, who created the first man-made microbe and revolutionized DNA sequencing techniques, the mess sparked an idea. He’s now developing a 3D printer that would let consumers download and print out vaccines from their own homes.
Theoretically, print-at-home vaccines could decentralize the supply chain, making protection available as soon as the vaccine has been created. That could be helpful even when it comes to the seasonal flu vaccine. Every year, researchers from the CDC and WHO create the vaccine based on an educated guess as to which strains will be common during the flu season. "Experts must pick which viruses to include in the vaccine many months in advance," the CDC explains, "in order for vaccine to be produced and delivered on time." But if you could print the vaccine in your own home, health authorities potentially would not have to predict which flu strains to combat so far in advance.
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