Man at His Best

Device Creates Lifesaving Drugs On The Go

MIT device can churn out drugs and vaccines using programmable yeast.

BY Jason S Ganesan | Aug 2, 2016 | Technology

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Getting medical aid to those in emergency situations and/or in remote parts of the world is always fraught with risk, as the Russians will tell you

A new device aims to solve that. The device, developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)—with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—uses a modified strain of yeast that can produce lifesaving drugs and vaccines on demand.

Drugs take a long time to produce, and researchers have been looking into ways to speed up the entire process. According to Vocativ, a separate MIT team developed a 24-foot-long network of tubes that could churn out essential drugs without external tinkering.

The MIT team in question then refined this model, and came up with a prototype that can produce diphenhydramine (Benadryl), lidocaine (Xylocaine), diazepam (Valium), and fluoxetine (Prozac) from a modified strain of the Pichia pastoris yeast.

When mixed with a specific chemical trigger, the Pichia pastoris will begin to create the drug of choice through synthesis within the device. And when a different drug is needed, the device can simply be flushed out, and mix the same Pichia pastoris with a different chemical trigger. If utilised to its maximum potential, the device can churn out 1,000 doses of a drug in just 24 hours.

Since the modified Pichia pastoris can only produce four drugs, the MIT team is looking into engineering another strain of yeast, or a bunch of strains that grow together, to produce more combinations of drugs and vaccines.

Aid delivery systems, humanitarian corridors, and hospitals are no longer sacrosanct, so anything that sidesteps this is welcome.


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