Dec 26, 2017 | By Tess

Researchers from the University of Graz in Austria are using a 3D printed reactor system to transform fluoroform, a harmful greenhouse gas, into eflornithine, a drug used to treat African trypanosomiasis (better known as sleeping sickness).

Last month, we wrote about how researchers from Graz’s CC FLOW consortium had developed a novel 3D printed steel reactor which was capable of turning fluoroform—a greenhouse gas produced through the manufacturing of fluoropolymers like Teflon—into a synthetic building block using flow chemistry.

Now, using the same 3D printed reactor system, the researchers have demonstrated the ability to transform the Teflon waste product into a critical medicine.

Sleeping sickness is an infectious and potentially fatal disease that is transmitted to humans via insects (usually the tsetse fly). If untreated, the disease can trigger early symptoms such as fevers, headaches, and joint paints. Down the line, it can cause problems in the central nervous system manifesting as bad coordination, numbness, and disrupted sleep.

The disease, which is most common in certain parts of rural sub-Saharan Africa, is believed to currently be effecting over 11,000 people in the region and caused the deaths of about 3,500 people in 2015.

Fortunately, there is a treatment for the disease, eflornithine, which can now be produced through the synthesis of a harmful waste product.

"In the flow process developed together with an industrial partner, we have succeeded in applying fluoroform to meaningful use,” commented Dr. C. Oliver Kappe, a professor at the University of Graz. “We use it to make eflornithine, a major sleeping sickness drug, which has been added to the Essential Medicines list by the World Health Organization (WHO).”

Typically, the method for disposing of fluoroform waste consists of burning it, which has the inevitable problem of producing CO2 emissions. By putting the Teflon waste-product through a flow synthesis process, however, the material can serve a more ecological and useful purpose.

With the 3D printed steel reactor, the researchers essentially pump in fluoroform from one end, which goes through a number of microliter-scale reaction chambers. In each reaction chamber, the material undergoes a specific process, often enabled and hastened through the application of extreme temperatures and pressures.

After going through the 3D printed reactor (and being exposed to various “quench” solutions) the fluoroform is transformed into eflornithine, which is emitted from the reactor.

“Flow chemistry saves time and money compared to traditional processes and is often more environmentally friendly because there are no waste products between the individual reaction steps,” added Kappe.

The 3D printed flow reactor itself was designed through a collaboration between the University of Graz, the Graz University of Technology, and the Research Center Pharmaceutical Engineering GmbH. The device, which only measures 16 x 9 x 3 cm, was manufactured by Anton Paar, a specialist in selective laser melting (SLM) technologies, and was printed from stainless steel, which offered the best chemical, thermal, and mechanical conductivity.

Additive manufacturing enabled the researchers to bring their complexly designed reactor to life. “With 3D printing, flow reactors of any complexity can be produced, whereas conventional production methods limit this considerably. This also means an enormous cost saving,” they said.

The innovative research was recently published about in the journal Green Chemistry.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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