Device makes single doses of drugs on demand

The portable drug-manufacturing unit could be of great use on the battlefield or in remote locations.

By Stephen Feller
Device makes single doses of drugs on demand
Researchers at MIT say a portable drug-making device could speed treatment in places from battlefields to remote villages or even ambulances. Photo by Massachusetts Institute of Technology

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., July 29 (UPI) -- A portable device may allow doctors to create single doses of biopharmaceutical medications on demand, potentially speeding the treatment of diseases that include diabetes and cancer.

The portable production system was developed by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with funding from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, expecting the device could be useful for the battlefield and remote areas to produce treatments immediately at the point of care.


Biopharmaceutical manufacturing generally requires single biologic-producing cell lines cultivated at large scales, making treatment with these types of drugs difficult in short time frames.

The system, described in the journal Nature Communications, can currently produce two biologic drugs from a single yeast strain in the device, creating near-single-dose production in less than 24 hours with limited infrastructure.

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MIT researchers previously announced the production system in March, showing off what they said could be used as an emergency backup for drug production or employed in situations where medications are not readily available.

"It is a pragmatic solution for biomanufacturing, and the team's flexible and portable platform shows an authentic way of producing personalized therapeutics," Luke Lee, a professor of bioengineering at the University of California Berkely, said in a press release.


The production system uses a programmable strain of yeast, Pichia pastoris, which produces two proteins used for disease therapy.

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The strain of yeast, which can grow at very high densities when exposed to carbon sources, expressed recombinant human growth hormone when exposed to estrogen β-estradiol and expressed the protein interferon when exposed to methanol.

The researchers say the type of biologic can be changed by exposing yeast to small droplets containing a chemical trigger, which they say can be changed safely by flushing it through a filter before a fresh liquid is added to the device.

The potential use for the device is significant, as it can be used for everything from treatments on a battlefield where immediate care is required to prevention of a disease outbreak in a remote village, said Tim Lu, an associate professor of biological engineering and electrical engineering and computer science at MIT.

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"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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