Australian scientists have employed a device famously used to 'uncook' an egg to develop cheaper, more readily available anaesthetia medication.
Researchers have developed a way to make one of the world's most wanted medicines more widely available, through a desktop device which can produce the substance quickly and can be operated with basic instructions anywhere in the world.
The team of researchers from Flinders University have managed to successfully synthesise the anaesthetic Lidocaine, described by the World Health Organisation as one of the most important medicines for a basic healthcare system.
“The significance of this research is that it’s a new device. The chemistry is well-established, there are reactions we know,” co-author of the paper outlining the breakthrough, Dr Justin Chalker, told The Huffington Post Australia.
“What’s unique about this device is it makes those chemical reactions happen more rapidly and you can do them in a continuous process,” he said.
The device is called a Vortex Fluidic Device (VFD), and though it sounds like something out of science fiction, the VFD uses “flow chemistry” to continually create Lidocaine in a way that’s faster and produces less waste compared to traditional mass-production methods.
The researchers say this new method of production for the anaesthetic could revolutionise the way it’s made.
Currently, producing Lidocaine is a lengthy process that requires large-scale pharmaceutical production.
This traditional production method can generate as much as half a tonne of waste per kilogram of medicine created.
“We generate much less waste than you would in classic round-bottom flask chemistry,” Chalker said.
The VFD is also simple to use -- “as close as a plug and play system as you can get for flow chemistry,” he said.
It’s that ease-of-use which caused team lead and inventor of the device, Professor Colin Raston, to suggest the VFD could be used in areas like war zones and developing countries, where the need for anaesthetic is high but the facilities to produce it aren’t available.
Professor Raston with his invention, the VFD (Flinders University)
“This device creates a unique way to develop more sustainable and cost-effective products, services and technologies which can accelerate innovation in a range of industries, from drug manufacturing to food and biodiesel production,” he said.
To create the anaesthetic, simple chemical components are pumped into the base of the device, and it spins quickly to combine them in sequence.
The reaction is concentrated and contained, meaning Lidocaine is quickly produced without the need for large facilities.
And if seeing the VFD is giving you déjà vu, don’t be confused -- earlier this month the device made headlines as Professor Raston won an Ig Nobel prize for using it to“uncook” an egg.
The ability of the device to unscramble proteins lets it 'turn back time', unfolding egg white proteins and returning them to their uncooked status.
Earlier this year, the VFD was also used to improve the effectiveness of a drug used to treat cancer.