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molecular manufacturing

Just add water

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On-demand pharmaceutical manufacturing

US researchers have been working on a molecular manufacturing method that can produce a broad range of biomolecules anywhere in the world, without power or refrigeration. The result is a ‘just add water’ solution that affordably, rapidly and precisely generates compounds that could be administered as therapies or used in experiments and diagnostics.

“T

The new method employs two types of freeze-dried pellets containing different kinds of components. The first kind of pellet contains the cell-free ‘machinery’ that will synthesise the he ability to synthesise and

end product. The second kind contains DNA

administer biomolecular compounds anywhere

instructions that will tell the ‘machinery’ what

could undoubtedly shift the reach of medicine and

compound to manufacture. When the two

science across the world,” said Dr James Collins,

types of pellets are combined and rehydrated

senior author on the study. The work was led by

with water, the biomolecular manufacturing

Dr Collins’ team at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for

process is triggered. The second type of pellet

Biologically Inspired Engineering and has been

can be customised to produce a wide range of

published in the journal Cell.

final products.

‘Portable biomolecular manufacturing’, as the

Compounds manufactured using the method

work has been dubbed by Dr Collins’ team, hinges

could be administered in several ways to a patient,

on the idea that freeze-dried pellets containing

including via injection, oral doses or topical

‘molecular machinery’ can be mixed and matched

application. Furthermore, the technology is

to achieve a wide variety of products. By simply

applicable to a wide variety of applications. For

adding water, this molecular machinery can be set

example, since antibodies are increasingly being

in motion. The approach builds on work described

used to treat microbial infections and diseases

in a 2014 paper where the team demonstrated that

ranging from cancer to immune disorders, the

transcription and translation machinery could

researchers used their system to create a portable,

function in vitro, without being inside living

modular toolbox for making designer antibodies

cells, inside freeze-dried slips of ordinary paper

against a variety of disease-relevant targets. This

embedded with synthetic gene networks.

included one that could neutralise C. difficile

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