A team of engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claim they have designed a portable device that can manufacture medical treatments on demand. The technology reportedly uses yeast to manufacture drugs and vaccines on the spot.
The device could come in handy for doctors in warzones and developing areas of the world as it could deliver much-needed medication to patients there.
The research project has received funds from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and a research paper detailing it was published recently in the Nature Communications.
The study shows that for a single drug dose, the device uses a tiny droplet of yeast cells in a fluid. Lead author of the study Tim Lu, who is a biomedical engineer at MIT’s Synthetic Biology Group, explained that the device can be carried in inaccessible locations to help treat patients on the spot or enable medics contain a dangerous outbreak by fabricating vaccines on the go.
Lu’s team also said that the instrument could be even taken on Mars where there is absolutely no access to drugs to provide astronauts with needed medication.
According to the researchers, the system uses genetically modified strains of yeast which can produce two types of proteins under a specific chemcial reaction. The proteins are next used to manufacture drugs.
The type of yeast picked by MIT scientists, Picha pastoris, is highly versatile becaue it can multiply very fast on very little carbon sources and yield a high production of therapeutic proteins.
Researchers noted that when yeast came into contact with estrogen β-estradiol it produced cells mimicking the recombinant human growth hormone, while after it got exposed to methanol it produced protein interferon.
Study authors explained that the device contains a nanoscale bioreactor with a microfluidic chip that can store and mix yeast cells with chemical substances to produce proteins. Additionally, the system keeps a constant watch on pressure, temperature, pH and oxygen levels within the chip.
The liquid which contains yeast cells can be “flushed” through a filter so the cells can be recombined with a new substance to produce a new drug. In previous attempts to devise the system, protein-producing cells failed to survive the changes in their chemical environment.
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