MIT team creates portable mini ‘factory’ for biopharmaceuticals production

Quickly producing biopharmaceutical drugs on demand in a remote location is technically challenging, and doctors do not currently have access to the tech needed to do so. MIT scientists have met this demand head-on, claiming to have already manufactured small amounts of vaccines and other drugs using a portable device.

Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists published their work last week in the journal Nature Communications.

Biopharmaceutical drugs--such as vaccines and treatments for diabetes and cancer--are currently limited to use in remote areas of the world, since most are produced in large, centralized fermentation plants. Either transport costs are too high and/or it is not logistically feasible.

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The laptop-size portable device harnesses a strain of yeast, Pichia pastoris, which can be genetically engineered to express two therapeutic proteins on chemical-trigger cue.

The device contains a microfluidic chip which holds the yeast cells in a millimeter-scale table-top microbioreactor. The liquid containing a chemical can then be passed through to stimulate protein production--washed through and done with another fresh liquid.

“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,” Tim Lu, senior author of the study, said in a university news release. 

In addition, Lu highlights the cost of creating multiple therapeutics of, say, antibodies, all of which require their own production line. Using their platform it would be possible to create multiple therapeutics in one hit.

Luke Lee, a professor of bioengineering at the University of California at  Berkeley, who was not involved in the research, commented in the release: “It is a pragmatic solution for biomanufacturing, and the team's flexible and portable platform shows an authentic way of producing personalized therapeutics.”

- here's the release
- get the journal abstract

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