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Photograph of an operational InSCyT system

A protein-based drug is made in a reaction vessel (silver box, left) before passing over columns of purifying chemicals (slender white cylinders, middle). Credit: L. E. Crowell et al./Nat. Biotechnol.

Medical research

This miniature drug factory fits on a few lab benches

Automated system takes only 80 hours to turn out hundreds of doses of a medical product made by living organisms.

An all-in-one bench-top system can churn out hundreds or thousands of doses of a medically useful protein in a few days — and can easily switch to manufacturing other proteins.

Biologic drugs, or biologics, are medical products such as vaccines that are produced by living organisms. Biologics could potentially serve as personalized treatments, but today’s large-scale drug production facilities cannot efficiently manufacture personalized biologics.

To address this, Christopher Love at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and his colleagues designed a compact, automated system that, unlike other designs, links all the steps of biologic assembly. In the new system, yeast rapidly produces a protein in bulk. A purification system then separates the molecule from its biological source without chemically altering the protein. Finally, the protein is combined with other ingredients into the final product.

The researchers produced medically functional amounts of three protein biologics, including human growth hormone for treatment of growth deficiencies. The system can also be expanded to make biologics, such as insulin, that are more difficult to manufacture than those the system has already made.

More Research Highlights...

Light micrograph of a human egg cell during fertilisation

As a human egg cell is fertilized, two chromosome-containing cellular structures (dotted circles, centre) merge into one — a process that often goes wrong. Credit: Pascal Goetgheluck/Science Photo Library

Developmental biology

The error-prone step at the heart of making an embryo

High-resolution imaging shows why the union between two sets of chromosomes goes awry as least as often as not.
Satellite image of broken iceberg B-44.

Dark water borders chunks of iceberg broken off a West Antarctica glacier. The melting of the region’s ice sheet could allow the bedrock to rise, sloughing water into the ocean. Credit: NASA

Climate change

Antarctic rocks on the rebound could raise sea level much more than expected

When the ice covering the west of the continent disappears, the bedrock could rise up and shove extra water into the ocean.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, Costa Rica

Mist wafts through the trees at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve in Costa Rica. Cloud forests around the world are threatened by development, wood collection and climate change. Credit: Stefano Paterna/Alamy

Conservation biology

Forests that float in the clouds are drifting away

Tropical cloud forests are safe havens for a vast range of creatures and plants, but they are under siege around the globe.
Illustration of a brown dwarf

A rapidly spinning brown dwarf (pictured, artist’s impression) tends to have narrow atmospheric bands; the faster the spin, the thinner the bands. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomy and astrophysics

Dim stars that have failed at fusion are masters of spin

Three brown dwarfs whirl on their axes at a dizzying rate that might be close to the celestial speed limit for these bodies.
Aerial photograph of beef cattle standing at the Texana Feeders feedlot in Floresville, Texas

Large-scale facilities such as this feedlot in Floresville, Texas, help to meet the global appetite for beef and other red meat, which remains strong despite the growing consumption of chicken and fish. Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty

Agriculture

Meat lovers worldwide pay climate little heed

People are eating more poultry and fish — but they’re not giving up their hamburgers.
Midshipmen at dining table eat in formation, CIRCA 1900

Midshipmen in the United States in around 1900. A study found that body-mass index, a gauge of obesity, has increased with the generations during the twentieth century. Credit: Buyenlarge/Getty

Metabolism

A century of US data documents obesity’s racially skewed rise

An analysis also finds that obesity is common at a much younger age among people born in the early 1980s than those born in the late 1950s.
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