Manufacturing protein on demand

Graphic rendering of a section of a serpentine channel reactor showing the parallel reactor and feeder channels separated by a nanoporous membrane. On the left an electron microscope photo of a single nanopore viewed from the side. On the right a drawing showing metabolite exchange across the membrane. Credit: ORNL

We are a moving factory of proteins. Each one of our cells keeps manufacturing proteins through all its existence.

The development of synthetic proteins is complex and in spite of the tremendous progress made we cannot create proteins exactly as cells manufacture them (a few proteins show chirality characteristics -left or right hand-ness- that cannot be duplicated by the artificial process) although the artificial one usually works as well as the natural one.  I mention this just to emphasise the complexity in protein production...

Now scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US have announced the development of a microfluidic reactor that can manufacture a vast array of proteins.

The reactor (the name stands to indicate that the device facilitates chemical reactions) was made possible using technologies inherited from silicon etching. A serpentine (see figure) guides the formation of the protein as its components are made available, in the right sequence, through a membrane that is porous to the right atoms.

This innovation has the potential of making it possibile to manufacture customised drugs potentially in any place. It is not around the corner but it is surely a tile in the complex mosaic that is expected to revolutionise medicine in the next decade.

Author - Roberto Saracco

© 2010-2020 EIT Digital IVZW. All rights reserved. Legal notice. Privacy Policy.