Researchers have developed an artificial cellular organelle to aid in the development of artificial synthesis the life-saving anti-clotting drug heparin:
Scientists have been working to create a synthetic version of the medication, because the current production method leaves it susceptible to contamination–in 2008, such an incident was responsible for killing scores of people. But the drug has proven incredibly difficult to create in a lab.
Much of the mystery of heparin production stems from the site of its natural synthesis: a cellular organelle called the Golgi apparatus, which processes and packages proteins for transport out of the cell, decorating the proteins with sugars to make glycoproteins. Precisely how it does this has eluded generations of scientists.
To better understand what was going on inside the Golgi, Linhardt and his colleagues decided to create their own version. The result: the first known artificial cell organelle, a small microfluidics chip that mimics some of the Golgi’s actions.
As well as the utility of being able to produce drugs in this way, it is impressive the degree of control that can be exerted over the matter:
The digital device allows the researchers to control the movement of a single microscopic droplet while they add enzymes and sugars, split droplets apart, and slowly build a molecule chain like heparin.