Desperate situations have often brought about remarkable inventions. Such was how the challenges in providing medication to people living in remote regions of the globe fuelled the creation of a small, portable, protein-making bioreactor. Researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory describe the device in the journal Small.
The bioreactor has been made such that it can produce a range of drugs as required. Injected with a mixture of acids and cell extracts, it is able to create proteins that would treat diseases like diabetes, anaemia, and some infections.
It is made of two closely-wrapped 4.9-metre-long channels embedded in a microscopic, porous silicon membrane. The first channel is the site of the reaction while the other is the means of exit of the proteins to be collected. The membrane and winding channels are used to control the exchange of substances and conditions that might inhibit the synthesis of the proteins.
The bioreactor is deemed more efficient than commercial devices available nowadays. The team of researchers whose brainchild it is explains that not only can the microscale reactor generate a greater quantity of proteins than the traditional tube-based batch, but its yield can also be enhanced by promoting small molecule exchange in its dual-channel system.
Furthermore, it is not vulnerable to long-distance travelling or to disintegration within a short period of time because the organic materials do not need to be kept alive to yield the required proteins; being cell-free, the proteins do not have to be kept under cold conditions.
However, its commercialisation is not yet feasible. Nevertheless, it is portrayed as a prospective means of providing treatment to people from remote areas. It is also hoped that the device can eventually be used to make drugs that are too costly or scarcely available. It could also be potentially useful in disaster zones.