Nav: Home

Portable biological factories create pharmaceuticals

October 03, 2016

Pellets made from freeze-dried molecular components make it possible to "just add water" to create diverse compounds without the need for refrigeration. This portable and inexpensive platform, intended to help those far away from hospitals or even astronauts on the space station, could allow for the creation of pharmaceuticals, specialized therapies, and experimental biomolecules. The technology, developed by Harvard and MIT researchers, is presented September 22 in Cell.

"I think this opens up possibilities of creating a biotech equivalent of the chemistry kits many of us grew up with that consisted of powders and chemicals," says senior author James Collins, who runs a lab at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. "Now, we show that you can actually have freeze-dried DNA components and other biomolecules that can be used in an easy, low-resource way to explore the power of our technology."

Rather than freeze-drying the end molecules and re-hydrating them, the Collins Lab freeze-dries the molecular machinery for transcription and translation, which are then made into reaction pellets. After water is added to rehydrate the pellets, the molecular machinery gets to work creating the desired end molecule.

The technology is applicable in a wide variety of applications. For example, since antibodies are increasingly being used to treat microbial infections and diseases ranging from cancer to immune disorders, the researchers used their system to create a portable, modular toolbox for making designer antibodies against a variety of disease-relevant targets. This included one that could neutralize C. difficile bacteria, which cause fatal infections in people, and another that was able to target and kill breast cancer cells.

The researchers also explored on-site vaccine production by testing the ability of the pellets to synthesize a vaccine against diphtheria. The vaccine is sensitive to both heating and freezing, making its storage and global distribution challenging, and the ability to rapidly synthesize it on site would thus be an important advance. The scientists found that the pellet-synthesized vaccine was able to elicit a protective response in mice.

"We showed that you could get an appropriate biological response," says Collins. "We're not developing novel vaccines, but we're showing that if we can encode the antigens in DNA, then we can harness that ability and have the vaccines in an easy-to-ship and -store format."

This new approach to biomolecular manufacturing costs an average of $0.03 per microliter, making it about 10 times less expensive than its commercial counterpart, although the exact cost can vary depending on the molecules being manufactured. The reaction pellets can be transported at room temperature and may provide a solution for problems doctors and scientists may face when they lack adequate refrigeration facilities. Additionally, because, for most uses, the pellets have simple instructions for use--"just add water"--very little training would be required for therapeutic use.

Collins and his team are optimistic about other potential uses of this technology, including futuristic applications for long-term medical treatment during space travel. Although Collins admits that scalability may be an issue with certain molecules that are not immediately amenable to the freeze-drying process, his team is discussing the next steps they can take with this technology.

In addition to expanding the process to work with more complex molecules, his lab is looking to adapt the platform so that it can be used in field work, to extend the platform to educational applications, and to determine how the technology could be used for additional small-molecule production.
The work was supported by the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, the Ragon Institute, the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Cell, Pardee, Slomovic, Nguyen, and Lee et al: "Portable, on-demand biomolecular manufacturing"

Cell (@CellCellPress), the flagship journal of Cell Press, is a bimonthly journal that publishes findings of unusual significance in any area of experimental biology, including but not limited to cell biology, molecular biology, neuroscience, immunology, virology and microbiology, cancer, human genetics, systems biology, signaling, and disease mechanisms and therapeutics. Visit To receive Cell Press media alerts, contact

Cell Press

Related Vaccine Articles:

Development of a novel vaccine for Zika
Research presented by Farshad Guirakhoo, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer, GeoVax, Inc., at the ASM Microbe 2017 meeting showed a new Zika virus vaccine that gives 100 percent protection in mice.
Could there be a 'social vaccine' for malaria?
Malaria is a global killer and a world health concern.
'Dose sparing' flu vaccine could boost productivity and vaccine availability
The currently licensed seasonal trivalent influenza vaccines contain 15 micrograms of viral hemagglutinin protein per strain for adults, and up to 60 micrograms for elderly individuals; however, due to recent shortages, reducing these doses would be highly desirable.
Antibodies triggered by avian influenza virus vaccine illuminate a new path toward a universal flu vaccine
Diverse antibodies induced in humans by vaccination with an avian influenza virus vaccine may offer broader, more durable protection against multiple strains of influenza than today's vaccines typically provide.
Particulate vaccine delivery systems may help
Most traditional vaccines have safety and efficacy issues, whereas particulate vaccine delivery systems -- which utilize nano- or micro-particulate carriers to protect and deliver antigens--are efficient, stable, include molecules to bolster immune responses, and minimize adverse reactions due to the use of biocompatible biomaterials.
Vermont Vaccine Testing Center study reveals effective, single-dose dengue vaccine
Results from a dengue vaccine virus challenge study show 100 percent protection in clinical trial participants tested at University of Vermont and Johns Hopkins University.
Most vaccine-related posts on Pinterest are anti-vaccine, reveals research
75 percent of the vaccine-related posts on Pinterest are negative towards vaccination, according to research published in Vaccine.
INFORMS Wagner Prize: Vaccine and gene match, vaccine effectiveness to CDC, GA Tech, Emory
The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, the leading professional association in analytics and operations research, today announced that the winner of the Daniel H.
Developing a better flu vaccine
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers say they have developed a method that could make a nasal spray flu vaccine effective for those under two and over 49 -- two groups for which the vaccine is not approved.
How to convince vaccine skeptics -- and how not to
Many skeptics of vaccinating their children can be convinced to do so, but only if it is presented a certain way, a team of psychologists reports this week.

Related Vaccine Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...