TECH & SCI­ENCE

Wangaratta Chronicle - North East Regional Extra - - Front Page - WITH CHRIS

IMAG­INE if one day, you could walk into your lo­cal phar­macy, and the phar­ma­cist could use a molec­u­lar printer to print your med­i­ca­tion on the spot.

This mi­cro-man­u­fac­tured med­i­ca­tion could be tai­lored to your in­di­vid­ual phys­i­ol­ogy and your dosage re­quire­ments as de­ter­mined by your doc­tor.

It’s a vi­sion for the fu­ture of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals that a grow­ing num­ber of sci­en­tists hope will make medicines more af­ford­able, per­son­alised, and more ac­ces­si­ble to ru­ral areas and de­vel­op­ing na­tions.

On top of this, emerg­ing molec­u­lar print­ing tech­nol­ogy could even al­low sci­en­tists to craft com­pounds that are ex­tremely rare in na­ture, or sim­ply don’t ex­ist at all.

Say you’re a med­i­cal re­searcher in­ter­ested in a rare chem­i­cal pro­duced in the roots of a lit­tle­known Pe­ru­vian flower.

It’s called ratan­hine, and it’s valu­able be­cause it has some fas­ci­nat­ing anti-fun­gal prop­er­ties that might make for great medicines.

Get­ting your hands on the rare plant is hard, and no chem­i­cal sup­plier is or has ever sold it.

But maybe, thanks to the work of Univer­sity of Illi­nois chemist Martin Burke, you could print it right in the lab.

In a study pub­lished in 2015 in the jour­nal Sci­ence, Burke an­nounced the specs of a chem­istry’s own ver­sion of the 3D printer - a ma­chine that can sys­tem­at­i­cally syn­the­size thou­sands of dif­fer­ent mol­e­cules (in­clud­ing the ratan­hine molec­u­lar fam­ily) from a hand­ful of start­ing chem­i­cals.

Such a ma­chine could not only make ratan­hine step-by-step, but also could cus­tom-cre­ate a dozen other closely-re­lated chem­i­cals - some never even syn­the­sized be­fore by hu­mans.

That could al­low sci­en­tists to test the medic­i­nal prop­er­ties of a whole molec­u­lar fam­ily.

And in Jan­uary this year, chemist Leroy Cronin and his col­leagues re­ported print­ing a series of in­ter­con­nected re­ac­tion ves­sels that carry out four dif­fer­ent chem­i­cal re­ac­tions in­volv­ing 12 sep­a­rate steps - from fil­ter­ing to evap­o­rat­ing a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent so­lu­tions.

By adding dif­fer­ent reagents and sol­vents at the right times and in a precise or­der, they were able to con­vert sim­ple, widely avail­able start­ing com­pounds into a mus­cle re­lax­ant called ba­clofen.

And by de­sign­ing re­ac­tion­ware to carry out dif­fer­ent chem­i­cal re­ac­tions with dif­fer­ent reagents, they pro­duced other medicines, in­clud­ing a drug to fight ul­cers and acid re­flux.

“This ap­proach will al­low the on­de­mand pro­duc­tion of chem­i­cals and drugs that are in short sup­ply, hard to make at big fa­cil­i­ties, and al­low cus­tomi­sa­tion to tai­lor them to the ap­pli­ca­tion,” Cronin told Sci­ence Mag­a­zine.

Such re­ac­tion­ware could en­cour­age the pro­duc­tion of medicines used too rarely to jus­tify com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion, as well as for use in re­mote set­tings.

One chief con­cern is that 3Dprinted re­ac­tion­ware could make the pro­duc­tion of dan­ger­ous or il­licit drugs eas­ier, but it’s a con­cern, Cronin says, that shouldn’t dis­aude sci­en­tists from the ben­e­fi­cial uses of the tech­nol­ogy which could save many lives.

One such ben­e­fit is that dis­trib- uted chem­i­cal pro­duc­tion could stymie drug coun­ter­feit­ing prac­tices, a huge global prob­lem in which drug man­u­fac­tur­ers re­place ac­tive medic­i­nal in­gre­di­ents with in­ert or even dan­ger­ous com­pounds.

Coun­ter­feit drugs are es­ti­mated to make up as much as 30 per­cent of medicines in some de­vel­op­ing coun­tries and cost le­git­i­mate phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies up to $200 bil­lion per year.

Dis­trib­uted chem­i­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing, Cronin ar­gues, could en­sure that drugs are made cor­rectly, be­cause each re­ac­tion­ware setup would only be able to pro­duce a sin­gle medicine.

It’s cer­tainly an in­ter­est­ing prospect, and one that could see dra­matic changes to the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try in the com­ing decades.

BUILD­ING BLOCKS: Sci­en­tists are vy­ing for a fu­ture where med­i­ca­tion could be printed to spec­i­fi­ca­tion at a molec­u­lar level, pre­cisely tai­lored to in­di­vid­ual pa­tients.

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