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Hydrogel gives platform to biofactories


28 April 2020

A new production system could benefit those in remote locations.

US researchers have come up with a way to produce medicines and chemicals in portable ‘biofactories’ which are embedded in a hydrogel. This approach could help people in remote communities, in conflict zones or in situations where access to medical supplies is not easy.

The system embeds cells which are bioengineered to over produce a product into a solid support of hydrogel. As a cross-linked polymer, the hydrogel can be 3D printed or manually extruded. The gel material, along with the cells inside, can flow then harden on exposure to UV light. The resulting polymer network is large enough for molecules and proteins to move through, but the space is too small for cells to leak out.

The hydrogel system was developed by US researchers from the University of Texas at Austin’s Cockerell School of Engineering in collaboration with a group from the University of Washington.  The team said that the platform had the added benefit of keeping different types of cells separated while growing, preventing one taking over and killing off other cells. In addition, the team demonstrated that the system could be used repeatedly over the course of a year, thus making is sustainable.

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