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Novel Microfluidic Processes for Drug Development

Researchers from Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), MIT’s research enterprise in Singapore, and National University of Singapore (NUS) developed a unique method for generating and processing fluid droplets.

Ground-breaking discovery of a new method for generating and processing fluid droplets was previously unattainable due to specific conditions.

The process was elucidated in the recent publication on the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) in a paper titled, “Embedded droplet printing in yield-stress fluids”. The project is part of the National Research Foundation’s (NRF) Intra-CREATE Collaborative Grant, which enabled the collaboration between researchers from the Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) partner institutions SMART and NUS.

This discovery looks to be applied in a range of scientific fields including the study of biological and chemical processes, paving the way for development of pharmaceutical products.

Dr Arif Zainuddin Nelson, a researcher under SMART and Intra-CREATE’s project “Advanced Manufacturing of Pharmaceutical Drug Products using Modular Microfluidic Processes”, led the development of the new method, which is the first of its kind to take advantage of yield-stress fluids to create the ideal conditions for experimentation, processing or observation of various samples.

Using the embedded droplet printing approach, the research team was able to suspend perfectly spherical drug-laden particles. The new approach avoids malformations that are common in conventional methods, which produce particles that are ovoid in shape and result in poor flowability during manufacturing of medicines.

“We have developed a set of tools that allows us to observe and process many different applications under this unique method, including chemical and biological reactions,” said NUS Professor Saif Khan, who is also part of the research team.

“Pharmaceuticals is just one of the areas where this could produce transformative results, which is where our work is focused. We could change the way drugs are made, formulate them in a way that improves quality, revolutionise the way existing drugs are taken by patients, and envision entirely new drugs that cannot be made today.”

Through this method, the size and dosage of existing drugs can be altered which would be particularly useful for designing high potency drugs taken at small doses, such as those consumed by cancer patients. With the ease of developing small batches of specialized drugs, this process allows the production of tailored medicines for specific patients.

“With the exception of going into space to be in zero-gravity, this method is the only way to achieve an environment where various processes can be observed in such an isolated state,” said Dr Nelson. “However, achieving a zero-gravity state is prohibitively expensive, and we have created a substantially easier and cheaper process to achieve a unique environment where chemical and biological processes are undisturbed by the outside forces.”

In relation to pharmaceuticals, Intra-CREATE’s new microfluidic process provides a way of circumventing capital costs in formulating high-quality drugs. This process can also be applied to a range of other functions such as antibiotic testing and use of it in embedded chemical reaction chambers.

Co-author of the research paper and Principal Investigator for SMART’s Interdisciplinary Research Group, Critical Analytics for Manufacturing Personalised-Medicine (CAMP), MIT Professor Patrick Doyle said, “The new microfluidic process can be a gamechanger in a range of scientific experimentation, and the generality and wide impact of this method couldn’t have been achieved without SMART and NUS working together.” [APBN]