Pulse 120: Engineered Bacteria Produce Low Cost Drugs

23 September 2019
Giulio Prisco

Pharmaceutical Lab

Bacteria are commonly used to produce biologics, which are products like vaccines, gene therapies, and proteins that are created or synthesized from biological sources. A new technology for biologics uses engineered bacterial "swarmbots" (see below) to achieve versatile production, analysis, and purification of diverse proteins and protein complexes.

"It's a very compact process. You don't need electricity, and you don't need a centrifuge to produce and isolate these proteins," said research leader Lingchong You, a professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University. "It makes this a good platform for biomanufacturing. You have the ability to produce a certain type of medicine in a very compact format at a low cost, and it's easy to deliver. On top of that, this platform offers an easy way to produce multiple proteins simultaneously."

"This technology is incredibly versatile," added You. "That's a capability we want to take advantage of."

Engineered bacteria create biological drugs. Biomedical engineers at Duke University have developed a new platform to create biological drugs using specially-engineered bacteria, called "swarmbots," which burst and release useful proteins when they sense that their capsule is becoming too crowded. This self-contained platform, described in a research paper published in Nature Chemical Biology, could make it easier for researchers to create, analyze, and purify diverse biologics for use in small-scale biomanufacturing.

New combination therapy helps lung cancer patients. Scientists led by Francis Crick Institute and Institute of Cancer Research have found that combining a new class of drug with two other compounds can significantly shrink lung tumors in mice and human cancer cells. A study published in Science Translational Medicine describes G12C KRAS inhibitors, a new type of drug that targets a specific mutation that can cause cells to multiply uncontrollably and lead to fast-growing cancers. The other compounds in the combination block the mTOR and IGF1R pathways, both of which have been previously tested in cancer patients.

Flexible electrodes for brain-computer interfaces. Chinese researchers have developed a new type of electroencephalogram (EEG) electrode that permits controlling electronic devices with brain waves, without the sticky gel required for conventional electrodes. Even better, the devices work through a full head of hair. The new flexible electrodes, which could someday be used in brain-computer interfaces to drive cars or move artificial limbs, are described in a research paper published in Nano Letters.

Bone marrow cells help recovery after stroke. Researchers at University of Texas have reported that the bone marrow cells used to treat ischemic stroke in an expanded Phase I trial were not only safe and feasible, but also resulted in enhanced recovery compared to a matched historical control group, and repair of motor nerve tracts. The pilot study, which began in 2009, was the first of its kind using a patient's own bone marrow cells. Results from the first 10 patients were published in 2011. The new results, published in Stem Cells, are based on 25 patients, who received an intravenous dose of their own bone marrow cells within 72 hours after the first symptoms of stroke.

Nanomedicine for targeted cancer chemotherapy. Scientists at University of Helsinki, Åbo Akademi University, and Huazhong University of Science and Technology, have developed a new anti-cancer nanomedicine for targeted cancer chemotherapy. This new nanomedicine, described in a research paper published in Nature Communications, provides a new approach to use cell-based nanomedicines for efficient cancer chemotherapy. The scientists have harnessed exosomes containing various molecular constituents of their cell of origin, including proteins and RNA, together with synthetic nanomaterial, as carriers of anticancer drugs.

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Common arthritis drug helps blood cancer patients. Scientists at Universities of Sheffield, Oxford, and Cambridge, and Royal Hallamshire Hospital, have found that a simple arthritis drug could be an effective low-cost solution to treat patients with blood cancers such as polycythemia vera (PV) and essential thrombocythemia (ET). A study published in British Journal of Haematology indicates that methotrexate (MTX), a drug that is commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, significantly reduces the symptoms associated with these blood cancers.

New microscopes for high resolution brain imaging. Scientists at Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering and Brain Research Institute, University of Zurich, have developed new microscopes, known as mesoSPIMs, which can image the minute detail of brain tissue down to individual neurons that are five times thinner than a human hair, and can uncover the 3D anatomy of entire small organs, faster than ever before. The new mesoSPIMs, and their ability to provide new insights into brain and spinal cord organization for researchers working to restore movement after paralysis or to investigate neuronal networks, are described in Nature Methods.

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