Need drugs? Just add water
Getting life-saving medicine will soon be as easy as making instant lemonade.
When half the fruit at your local supermarket is freeze-dried, you know a trend has caught on. So it's no wonder researchers at MIT got the idea to use the method on medical drugs, right? Well, not exactly.
Freeze-drying some vaccines and other compounds has long been one of the methods used to preserve their biological properties so they can be transported to regions where refrigeration is scarce.
But what a global team of researchers – representing the U.S., Israel, Canada and South Korea, among others – did was take this a step further. Now, they're actually freeze-drying the individual molecular components, meaning more drugs essential to humans all over the planet can get to them. All they'll need is a bit of water.
“It’s a modular system that can be programmed to make what you need, on the spot,” said James Collins of MIT’s Department of Biological Engineering. “You could have hundreds of different DNA pellets you can add in the field.”
Collins previously published a related DNA study with Shimyn Slomovic, a graduate of the Technion Institute in Israel. Slomovic, who's now a post-doctoral fellow at MIT, also co-authored the new study.
In the past few years, Collins and other scientists in the field of synthetic biology have actually shown they can extract the necessary cellular components and freeze-dry them onto paper or other materials, but the team at MIT took the paper out of the equation: The cellular extracts are freeze-dried into pellets, which are usable for up to a year. To activate them, the researchers needed only add water to rehydrate the pellets, along with freeze-dried DNA that encoded the desired protein.
Collins said he sees this method of freeze-drying drugs being useful in a variety of settings.
“It could be used in a very simple carry kit for health care workers going in the field in developing regions,” he said. “We think it could be very useful for the military, when you’re going out on a mission in the field, or for hikers and athletes going for long hauls. You could even have it in the back of your car as an expanded first aid kit.”
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