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Portable Device Produces Biopharmaceuticals on Demand

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A schematic of the microbioreactor.

A new, portable production system is designed to manufacture a range of biopharmaceuticals on demand.

Credit: Tim Lu et al

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has funded the development of a portable on-demand biopharmaceutical production system at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Researchers at MIT's Research Laboratory of Electronics report the system can generate a single dose of treatment from a device containing a small drop of cells in a liquid, with possibly wide-ranging uses in battlefield and other situations.

The basis of the system is Pichia pastoris, a programmable yeast strain that can be triggered to express one of two therapeutic proteins when exposed to a specific chemical.

"We altered the yeast so it could be more easily genetically modified, and could include more than one therapeutic in its repertoire," says MIT professor Tim Lu at the Synthetic Biology Group. He notes the yeast cells are stored in a millimeter-scale table-top microbioreactor with a microfluidic chip.

The process begins by feeding a liquid with the chemical trigger into the reactor, and then gently mixing the contents to ensure homogeneity by pressurizing gas above a permeable membrane. The device monitors cell density and conditions within the chip to ensure the optimum environment for cell growth.

If the yeast has to produce a different protein, the liquid is flushed through a filter, leaving the yeast cells behind so a new chemical trigger can be added.

From MIT News
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