SMART’s new embedded droplet printing method could revolutionize drug manufacture

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.
By Dean Koh
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Above graphic: The new embedded droplet printing method suspends 3-D arrays of droplets in a uniquely isolated state that allows for precise processing and experimentation. Credit: SMART

A research team from Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), MIT's research enterprise in Singapore, and National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed a unique method for generating and processing fluid droplets under previously unattainable conditions.

The new embedded droplet printing method is explained in the research article, "Embedded droplet printing in yield-stress fluids" published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) journal. 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.

HOW IT WORKS

Conventional microfluidic methods primarily rely on fluids that behave in simple ways, like water. Yield-stress fluids are materials that behave in a complex way, dramatically transitioning between solid-like and liquid-like behavior, depending on an applied stress. 

The new embedded droplet printing technique developed by the research team can generate and manipulate fluid droplets within yield-stress fluids, which allows for the manipulation of droplets under conditions that are simply unattainable with conventional microfluidic methods, namely the elimination of exterior influences including convection and solid boundaries.

WHY IT MATTERS 

Using the embedded droplet printing approach, the research team was able to produce suspended and 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.

The embedded droplet printing method, which can also be used to alter the size and dosage of existing drugs, would be particularly useful for designing high-potency medicine that needs to be taken in very small doses, such as drugs taken by cancer patients. It can also lead to more tailored medicine as the new process would make it easier to develop small batches of specialized drugs for specific patients.

Outside the field of drug/medicine manufacturing, the new method can be used for antibiotic testing, as different antibiotics and dosages can be tested on individual droplets (with bacteria colonies cultured within them) to quickly provide doctors and researchers with a view on potential antibiotics and cures.

ON THE RECORD

"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. 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," said Dr. Arif Zainuddin Nelson, a researcher under SMART and Intra-CREATE's project "Advanced Manufacturing of Pharmaceutical Drug Products using Modular Microfluidic Processes."