Protein Factory on a Chip for Rapid Therapeutics

Nicholas Watkins | 18-LW-055


The potential for new, re-emerging, or engineered pandemic threats could challenge our nation's biosecurity, requiring rapid and flexible countermeasure development platforms. In healthcare, one of the main hindrances to the timely development of protein-based therapeutics for cancer, infectious disease, and other diseases has been a slow and expensive quality-controlled production stage.

Our project explored a protein-based technology with the potential to address crucial problems in biosecurity and healthcare by maximizing protein production and system portability, while minimizing production latency and cost. Specifically, we developed a reusable, portable, first-generation platform that leverages the advantages of cell-free protein synthesis and flow cells to create practical amounts of clinically relevant therapeutics. We demonstrated that this technology is reusable and programmable, enabling a single platform that can synthesize multiple dosages of various therapeutics and vaccines in the field. Implementing this technology could mitigate pandemic threats by providing a rapidly-deployable, versatile production of biologic therapeutics to the infected patient's location. In drug development, once promising drug variations are identified, the platform can be scaled to quickly produce practical amounts of protein for patient testing in the matter of days, versus months, at a fraction of the cost of existing technology.

Impact on Mission

Our work supports the National Nuclear Security Administration's goal of strengthening the science, technology, and engineering knowledge base by applying science and technology capabilities to deal with broader national security challenges. This rapid, reusable, and programmable protein synthesis platform is a new capability that supports Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's bioscience and bioengineering core competencies by working at the interface of biology, engineering, and the physical sciences to address national challenges in biosecurity and human health. It also supports the Laboratory's chemical and biological countermeasures research and development challenge. This technology has the potential to attract industry partners in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology fields.