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MIT Scientists Develop Portable Device To Manufacture Biopharmaceuticals On Demand

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Most medicines are produced in large laboratories and need to be shipped to locations where they will be used. This poses a problem for doctors who treat patients in remote areas, where quick access to drugs can be lifesaving but challenging.

Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), however, have come up with a solution to make biopharmaceutical drugs, which are used for vaccines as well as for diabetes and cancer treatments, more readily available in remote places.

They developed a portable device that can produce pharmaceuticals on demand. The system can help bypass the time-consuming and expensive transportation of crucial drugs in treatment sites with poor supply chains to more readily provide treatment.

In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, Tim Lu, from MIT's Research Laboratory of Electronics, and colleagues described the system that can manufacture a single dose of treatment using a compact device and a droplet of cells.

The system, which is based on a strain of yeast called Pichia pastoris that can be induced to express therapeutic protein when exposed to a chemical trigger, can produce two biologic drugs. It can produce near-single dose in less than 24 hours even with limited infrastructure requirements.

The researchers explained that they engineered the yeast, which can grow to very high densities on simple and cheap carbon sources and express large amount of protein, so it will be easier to genetically modify and have multiple uses.

When exposed to estrogen beta-estradiol, this strain of yeast expressed recombinant human growth hormone, which can stimulate tissue growth. Exposure of the yeast to methanol, on the other hand, expressed interferon, which belongs to a family of substances that are naturally produced by the immune system and used to treat various forms of cancer such as melanoma and leukemia as well as virus infections.

"We envision that combining this system with analytical, purification and polishing technologies could lead to a small-scale, portable and fully integrated personal biomanufacturing platform that could advance disease treatment at point-of-care," the researchers wrote in their study, which was published on July 29.

The researchers said that the system may also have application in space exploration amid plans of the U.S. government to send manned mission to planet Mars.

"Imagine you were on Mars or in a remote desert, without access to a full formulary, you could program the yeast to produce drugs on demand locally," Lu said.

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