Image of solution dripping into test tube.

Incredible Innovation 1: DIY Pharmaceutical Kit

Peter Reczek
Jun 15, 2016

Sometimes the most disruptive technology is one that slips under the radar and is not appreciated by investors or customers until long after it is introduced into the marketplace. Take iPhone, for example. We can even appreciate the enthusiasm for the next antibody drug. But, organic synthesis?

Recently, a group of engineers and scientists led by MIT researchers and their collaborators, published a new method for chemical synthesis that I believe will revolutionize the development of products requiring chemical intermediates.

Published by Adamo and colleagues in a recent edition of Science magazine, the new method involves a refrigerator-sized apparatus that takes advantage of a process known as “flow chemistry,” a microfluidics platform that allows for the addition of just the right chemical at just the right time into a reaction chamber that can be as small as the size of a fingernail. The authors describe their continuous-flow system with interchangeable process control, synthesis modules, crystallization, and formulation components. Using this system with appropriate reagents, the group was able to synthesize many hundreds of oral and liquid doses of several commonly used drugs whose purity meets US Pharmacopeia standards.

The current system was designed mainly to eliminate the commonly used “batch” method for synthesizing drugs and to improve the availability and reproducibility of drug manufacture. But, if the development of the personal computer is any indication, design improvements will soon reduce the size and cost of the apparatus perhaps to a size small enough for home use. Improvements in the microfluidics platform have already been described that increase the efficiency and lower the synthesis time for similar chemicals. And that’s really revolutionary because it means that a patient could make any prescribed drug in their own home without concern for availability when they need it.

What makes such a system truly revolutionary is the flexibility that it gives to other markets. Primarily designed with the pharmaceutical industry in mind, it’s easy to imagine a home-based version that can make other home based chemicals, cleaners, paint, even foodstuffs on demand whenever needed at a fraction of the cost of prepared products.

It may not be the food replicator from Star Trek, but it’s getting close.

Public Domain Photo via

Peter Reczek


This blog does not necessarily reflect the views of AAAS, its Council, Board of Directors, officers, or members. AAAS is not responsible for the accuracy of this material. AAAS has made this material available as a public service, but this does not constitute endorsement by the association.

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