Mar. 13, 2015

American scientists have announced the creation of a molecule-making machine, a 3D printer that can work at the molecular level to assemble complex small molecules on demand 'at the click of a mouse'.

The Ground-breaking molecule-making device has been created by chemists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, led by chemistry professor Martin D. Burke.

Dr Martin D. Burke

The university reports that this discovery could simplify the chemical synthesis of small molecules and offer tremendous potential for customized chemistry.

According to Burke, the highly customized approach that chemists have long relied on to synthesize small molecules is time consuming and inaccessible to most researchers. "Up to now, the bottleneck has been synthesis," Burke said. "There are many areas where progress is being slowed, and many molecules that pharmaceutical companies aren't even working on, because the barrier to synthesis is so high." With his new technology, Burke aims to change that.

"We wanted to take a very complex process, chemical synthesis, and make it simple," said Burke. "Simplicity enables automation, which, in turn, can broadly enable discovery and bring the substantial power of making molecules to nonspecialists."

Because most modern medicines are made from complex small molecules, and a wide-range of technologies, including LEDs, diagnostic tools, and solar cells also rely on small molecules, the process has the potential to sharply speed up the development of new drugs and other areas of chemical technology.

Small molecules are densely-packed complex little structures built mainly from carbon-carbon bonds. Making those molecules is a major barrier to drug discovery, according to Dr. Burke. The main question that Burke's group seeks to answer: How do you take something very complex and make it as simple as possible?

"For the past several years, we've been working on ways to break these complex molecules down, so that we can put them back together like building blocks." Dr. Burke says.

The chemical building blocks all have the same connector piece and can be stitched together with one simple reaction - like lego pieces, the way that a child's interconnecting lego blocks can have different shapes but all snap together.

To automate the building-block assembly, Burke's group devised a simple catch-and-release method that adds one building block at a time, rinsing the excess away before adding the next one. They demonstrated that their machine could build 14 different classes of small molecules, including ones with difficult-to-manufacture ring structures, all using the same automated building-block assembly.

Burke's team has developed hundreds of these chemical building blocks and made them commercially available. "But it's not really about the numbers," he says. "We are showing that with a very reasonable number of building blocks we can make many different types of natural products."

The automated synthesis technology has been licensed to REVOLUTION Medicines, Inc., a company that Burke co-founded that focuses on creating new medicines based on small molecules found in nature. Their initial focus is on anti-fungalmedications.

"It is expected that the technology will similarly create new opportunities in other therapeutic areas as well, as the industrialization of the technology will help refine and broaden its scope and scalability," Burke said.

"Perhaps most exciting, this work has opened up an actionable roadmap to a general and automated way to make most small molecules. If that goal can be realized, it will help shift the bottleneck from synthesis to function and bring the power of making small molecules to nonspecialists."

Posted in 3D Printers


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alvaro wrote at 3/15/2015 2:19:52 PM:

Congratulations Dr Buck!. New possibilities of inovations will be open .

Joe Q. wrote at 3/13/2015 9:22:02 PM:

This is a nice development but it really has very little to do with 3D printing -- instead, it is an application of solid supported synthesis (which has been used for decades to prepare small synthetic proteins and DNA) to small organic molecules.

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