Researchers in the Netherlands have created an efficient and simple method for manufacturing common drugs, copying a method used by plants for making their own resources.
Drug production is generally a matter of big factories churning out millions of aspirin or ibuprofen tablets a day, but there is a lot to be said for manufacturing common drugs on a small scale, close to where they are used.
Artificial leaves are not new: they are a class of devices that passively convert light into power for various purposes. Plants, of course, use photosynthesis to build their own critical chemicals, and they are much better at it than our best imitations.
However, in a significant step forward, researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands have found a way to make them power chemical reactions, such as those needed to assemble medical molecules.
The key is their employment of a new type of material called a luminescent solar concentrator (LSC), which converts incoming light to a particular wavelength and guides it to the edges of the artificial leaf. Thin channels are bored through the material, along which the chemical components of a medication can be pumped; the redirected, carefully tuned light sets off the reaction.
The use of LSCs immensely improves the efficiency, making it possible for the complex and high-energy processes to be carried out even on cloudy days.
“We now have a powerful tool at our disposal that enables the sustainable, sunlight-based production of valuable chemical products like drugs or crop protection agents,” noted the researchers. “Using a reactor like this means that in principle, you can make drugs anywhere. All you need is sunlight and this mini-factory.”