Insulin production using synthetic biology
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Insulin production using synthetic biology

Insulin — it’s a requirement. As a diabetic, my body can’t produce insulin. It’s a pretty expensive disease to have. With diabetes, you don’t really get to take a day off. You really need to have a handle on your disease. It’s always there. We’re harnessing recent advances in engineering biology or in synthetic biology to enable us to produce natural products, hormones, insulin, in a way that we can produce them faster, better, cheaper, more effectively than what is traditionally done. So the thing about insulin is it is actually two molecules The two pieces are connected by a chain and then that chain is eventually cut off and the two pieces are together. What we’ve done that is truly novel here is that we’ve taken one of our designed proteins and we’ve used that protein sort of as a middle clamp, a molecular clamp, that brings these two pieces together, pre-organizes them in the right orientation thereby encouraging them to assemble appropriately. At the end of the day, we have the same insulin that your body would make. We’ve been working on the system now for quite some time in the laboratory and we’ve got it going really well. The science works. To move forward, we now need to scale things up, we need to get out of a small laboratory in the Princeton chemistry department and we need to be able to produce the stuff in larger quantities, and ultimately, we need to be able to do the kind of quality control measurements that are essential to bring any drug to market. It’s our goal to make insulin more available at more accessible prices to more people whose lives depend upon it. Basic research is so important to improve our lives not just now but in 10, 15, 20 years. Videographer/editor Evelyn Tu; Producer Catherine Zandonella; Music by Firstcomm; Copyright 2019 The Trustees of Princeton University

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