New step made to­ward mak­ing painkillers from yeast

The China Post - - LIFE -

A team of U.S. sci­en­tists said Thurs­day they have taken an im­por­tant step to­ward en­gi­neer­ing painkillers from yeast, a process that has raised both hope and con­cern world­wide.

The re­port in the U.S. jour­nal Science de­scribes how re­searchers at Stan­ford Univer­sity ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered yeast to con­vert sugar into hy­drocodone — an opi­oid in the same chem­i­cal fam­ily as mor­phine — in just three to five days.

How­ever, it would take a huge amount a yeast to make just one dose of painkiller, the re­searchers added.

Typ­i­cally, it take more than a year to pro­duce a batch of medicine from poppy plants, which are har­vested, pro­cessed and shipped to phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal fac­to­ries so that the ac­tive drug mol­e­cules can be ex­tracted and re­fined.

The en­gi­neered yeast was made with a com­bi­na­tion of “plant, bac­te­rial, and ro­dent genes to turn sugar into the­baine, the key opi­ate pre­cur­sor to mor­phine and other pow­er­ful painkilling drugs,” said the re­port.

“The mol­e­cules we pro­duced and the tech­niques we de­vel­oped show that it is pos­si­ble to make im­por­tant medicines from scratch us­ing only yeast,” said se­nior au­thor Christina Smolke, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of bio­engi­neer­ing at Stan­ford.

“If re­spon­si­bly de­vel­oped, we can make and fairly pro­vide medi- cines to all who need.”

Other re­searchers have made a se­ries of ad­vances us­ing yeast over the past year, in what an ac­com­pa­ny­ing re­port in Science mag­a­zine called “a race to in­stall the com­plex opi­oid path­way in yeast.”

The re­port went on to de­scribe the Stan­ford team’s ad­vance as “one of the most elab­o­rate feats of syn­thetic bi­ol­ogy to date.”

Jens Nielsen, a syn­thetic bi­ol­o­gist at Chalmers Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy in Gote­borg, Swe­den — who was not in­volved in the re­search — called it as a “ma­jor mile­stone.”

Some ex­perts have raised con­cern about tech­nol­ogy that could fa­cil­i­tate home-brewed heroin and other painkillers.

Pre­scrip­tion opi­oids are ad­dic­tive and al­ready cause thou­sands of over­dose deaths in the United States each year.

Oth­ers say such tech­nol­ogy could make it eas­ier to get painkillers to those in need who do not have ac­cess to them around the globe.

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion es­ti­mates that 5.5 bil­lion peo­ple have lit­tle or no ac­cess to pain med­i­ca­tions.

Still, the prospect of home­brewed heroin is quite a ways off.

Smolke’s team said they went only so far as to demon­strate a proof of prin­ci­ple, and that it would take 4,400 gal­lons of bio­engi­neered yeast to make a sin­gle dose of painkiller, ac­cord­ing to a univer­sity state­ment.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Taiwan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.