COVID-19 vaccines are just the beginning for mRNA-based therapies; enabling a patient’s body to make almost any given protein could revolutionize care for other viruses, like HIV, as well as various cancers and genetic disorders. Because mRNA molecules are very fragile, they require extremely low temperatures for storage and transportation.
Penn Engineering researchers are developing a new manufacturing technique that would be able to produce mRNA sequences on demand and on-site, isolating them in a way that removes the need for cryogenic temperatures. With more labs able to make and store mRNA-based therapeutics on their own, the “cold chain” between manufacturer and patient can be made shorter, faster and less expensive.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is supporting this project, known as Distributed Ribonucleic Acid Manufacturing, or DReAM, through a four-year, $2 million grant from its Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation program.
The project will be led by Daeyeon Lee, Evan C Thompson Term Chair for Excellence in Teaching and Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE), along with Kathleen Stebe, Richer and Elizabeth Goodwin Professor in CBE and in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics. Michael Mitchell, Skirkanich Assistant Professor of Innovation in the Department of Bioengineering, is also collaborating.
The concept at the heart of the DReAM technique is a continuous enzymatic reaction and separation process, enabled by a complex form of liquid media known as a “bijel.”
Bijels, or bicontinuous interfacially jammed emulsion gels, are structured emulsions of oil and water that are kept separated by a layer of nanoparticles. Critically, these nanoparticles keep the oil and water from forming isolated droplets, like those that occur when you shake a bottle of salad dressing. This highly intertwined but unbroken arrangement allows for continuous chemical reactions and isolation of products, as reactant molecules can be fed into one of the phases while the reaction’s products are extracted from the other.
This story is by Melissa Pappas. Read more at Penn Engineering Today.