Biologics, being a group of drugs synthesized from biological sources, are often produced using bacteria. The manufacturing processes are usually slow and laborious, though they do benefit from economies of scale. Producing small quantities of biologics is typically limited to research labs, and even there it is limited in scope.
Researchers at Duke University have now come up with an entirely new way to manufacture biologic drugs using engineered bacteria and tiny capsules.
The bacteria, which the researchers have dubbed “swarmbots,” are programmed to know when their density inside the capsule is rising. Once a critical point is reached, the bacteria annihilate themselves and in the process release their content. Since the bacteria are also designed to generate a desired protein, that protein is part of the contents released from the capsule.
The capsule is porous, allowing the contents of burst bacterial cells to pass through it. It can also shrink when the bacteria inside it break up, pushing the byproducts, including the desired proteins, outside.
The proteins are then collected and a liquid with nutrients is added back to the capsules, allowing the remaining cells inside to grow again. This process can be repeated multiple times, each time producing more of the protein.
To make this process easier to control and effective for larger scale production, the researchers used a special microfluidic chip within which the capsules can reside and produce proteins. A chamber within the chip collects and measures the amount of the proteins that are produced, and a similar chamber can be made to purify the desired proteins.
Showing how effective the technology really is, the researchers were able to produce, measure, and purify in excess of fifty different proteins.
Study in Nature Chemical Biology: Versatile biomanufacturing through stimulus-responsive cell–material feedback