Researchers develop portable device to create biologic drugs in the field

Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge have developed a portable biopharmaceutical drug production system that can produce a single dose of treatment in the field, according to a new paper published in the journal Nature Communications.

Biopharmaceutical drugs are used in a wide range of therapies, including vaccines and treatments for cancer and diabetes. These drugs are most often produced in large fermentation plants. The portable system is based on a programmable strain of yeast called Pichia pastoris, which can express therapeutic proteins when given a particular chemical trigger. Researchers selected this particular strain of yeast because it can grow in high densities on cheap carbon sources.

"We altered the yeast so it could be more easily genetically modified, and could include more than one therapeutic in its repertoire," said senior author Tim Lu, MD, PhD, an associate professor of biological engineering and electrical engineering and computer science and head of the Synthetic Biology Group at MIT's Research Laboratory of Electronics.

The device could prove particularly useful for medics on the battlefield and physicians treating patients in the developing world. Dr. Lu added that the system could be used to manufacture vaccines to prevent outbreaks in remote villages.

He also provided a more futuristic scenario. "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," he said.


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