back to article 'The box' Bones uses to fix any ailment on the Enterprise? Yup, it's real

Researchers at MIT's electronics division have developed a small mobile medical laboratory that could help bring vaccines to remote impoverished areas, battlefields, and space. The reactor is a shoebox-sized biopharmaceutical station that could drop the cost of producing vaccines and diabetes treatments, delivering treatments …

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'“Imagine you were on Mars or in a remote desert, without access to a full formulary, you could program the yeast to produce drugs on demand locally,” Lu says.'

"It's life, Jim, but not as we know it!"

Now that song is in YOUR head too!! ahahahahha

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If I was stuck in a remote place, I'd program the yeast to produce something 'relaxing'.

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Pint

Re : something 'relaxing'

You mean something like this --------------------------------------------------------->

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Re: Re : something 'relaxing'

... best use of yeast I know ...

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Well thats the ethics of madness for you

Just don't let Paul Jurgenson service yours for you, I mean what could possibly go wrong...

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Coat

I'm stuck in the UK

Where I cannot access life changing drugs due to the cost (the NHS wont fund the £12k per month).

How much is the box, how much does it cost to run, and can it manage TPO gen2 drugs??

Of course I probably wont be allowed to buy one, as it will also be able to make germs and "recreational" stuff.

Lab coat with ink stained breast pocket.

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Re: I'm stuck in the UK

I assume your "life changing drugs" are patented medical treatment, so, making your own at home must be rather naughty.

I suppose that a drug company suing a cancer or AIDS patient for self-medication by bootleg may look bad, but, if they drag the case out long enough, you won't be there any more when it ends.

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Re: I'm stuck in the UK

Just out of interest, if you were not stuck in the UK, where would to go to get these drugs at prices you could afford?

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Re: I'm stuck in the UK

I assume your "life changing drugs" are patented medical treatment, so, making your own at home must be rather naughty.

IANAL but as far as I understand it, it's perfectly legal to make patented things at home for personal use, you're just not allowed to sell them or give them away without getting a licence (which usually means paying royalties). The problem in this case would be that he'd have to produce his own gene-modded yeast as well, because no-one else could supply it without a licence from the patent holder.

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Re: I'm stuck in the UK

They are covered by basic medical insurance in most European countries, and until BREXIT occurs, I could in theory move to France, Holland etc, and get them for free - with the NHS HAVING to pay for them.

This is not for cancer btw, I have something much, MUCH rarer; exact UK figures are impossible to find (I know I am one of only two men being treated by my local, county-wide NHS trust, but the US CDC estimates make me 1 in 1.4 million men.

In a food allergy trial for the illness a couple of years back, they struggled to get 160 patients, even after shipping them in from Ireland, Holland and Norway.

£12k is the headline cost; some people lucky enough to get on the initial drug trials found that the dosages needed started to drop after a couple of years, and now the amount the needed costs £500 - £2k per month.

The alternative NHS treatments are nasty, ineffective and have up to a 16% chance of killing me. BUT ARE CHEAP!!

Just getting a diagnosis was difficult, for 9 1/2 years they just kept telling me I was lazy........

(The US CDC gives the average life expectancy untreated as 4 years)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "patented medical treatment"

Any hope for the argument that the method of producing the drug is different from the patented method?

IANAPL

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On the abstract patenting point,

This may vary between jurisdictions, but I think it's not that a patent isn't enforceable against someone who builds their personal-use copy of, let us imagine, a new ingenious style of ironing-board, but that the patent holder has to pay to sue and it isn't worth spending the money - a patent is just a licence to sue, you can't have someone arrested or anything.

Of course if I have patented a new way to make diamonds then it may be worth suing someone else who is doing it my way.

And life altering drugs? As I said, it's bad PR to squeeze the sick, but if you don't want to do that then should you be in medical research?

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Re: I'm stuck in the UK

Still mystified on who or why the down votes.

You dont like sick people??

BTW That food allergy trial, the NHS wouldnt fund it, because it cost £2,000 per person for the tests; a charity organised it.

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These are exciting times to be alive.

It's things like this that make me stop and say "fuck yeah". A relatively simple box that could make a huge difference to life on Earth now and in space in the (not too distant) future. That really is exciting.

I just hope it's not prohibitively expensive.

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Childcatcher

Outlawed in knee-jerk panic fashion the first time some foreign-looking kid is pulled in and found to have "maKe anTHraX ?? lol ?" scrawled in crayon on the back of a copy of the Beano.

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Big Brother

Isn't anthrax a bacterium, nearly as complex as yeast? I don't think you could program yeast to make anthrax.

Not that that would stop the knee-jerk banning of The Box, so I guess your point still stands.

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Anthrax is indeed a bacteria, and difficult one to breed at that. But, yeah, governments will freak the hell out over anything that sounds just the slightest bit scary. I hope they never learn how easy it is to breed bacteria and some of the hardier viruses, or else they'll try and confiscate everyone's toaster ovens...

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but, history...

Presumably these yeast are effectively coming up with novel drugs through an evolutionary process, rather than replicating known drugs.

Novel drugs have a history of doing stuff you weren't expecting when put into a slightly different environment. Say like a human body.

So you're huddled, with a handful of colleagues in Mars Base Alpha, and a few of you come down with a new disease contracted by smoking too much Red Weed.You dig your shoe box lab out and ferment yourself a cure. Who's going to volunteer to try it first? Do you have a large enough population to give your drug an effective trial?

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So instead of needing supplies of drugs, this needs supplies of vague unnamed "chemical triggers" for the yeast. Why do I get the feeling these chemical triggers are even harder to come by?

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And just how many drug types can be made? Any variants of those?

Organic Chemistry is mind-bogglingly complex and covers a vast molecular landscape of possible compounds. I can't see this magic mushroom kit producing any but a smallish set of known drugs usefully. However, gene tailoring of the yeast could produce many variants capable of more advanced drugs.

But that could be opening Pandora's box. I mean, do we really want to share our planet with franken-yeasts that might suddenly grow out of control and head toward the nearest power plant?

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Anonymous Coward

Pre-made vs the box

From reading the article and ignoring the comments, it looks like the drugs this device can manufacture are limited to those the strain(s) of yeast have been bred to produce. One of those strains can produce a few different drugs depending which chemical triggers are around, which is quite clever but does male me wonder howuch easier it'll be to maintain a yeast culture and a library of triggers vs just a library of drugs.

No-one is making anthrax or fun drugs from one of these without engineering an appropriate yeast strain, and if the bad person can do that then an incubator for said yeast will not be a challenge.

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Re: Pre-made vs the box

The difference is that yeast freezes well; Some drugs - not so much.

Rather than keeping, say, an anti-malarial around for a few years and having to toss it when it passes it's expiry date, you keep the yeast-beasties frozen/desiccated and they don't expire. just add water and chemical triggers, and you have fresh anti-malarial drugs. Also, shipping a gram of yest is a lot cheaper than shipping in 100Kg of serum.

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Anonymous Coward

sound effects

still prefer Bone's box, as it made all those wicked 'scanning' noises! Does MIT's make 'scanning' noises?

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Alien

Star Trek is not responsible for everything futuristic

Sounds a lot like the 'vampire box' personal medical kit from Harry Harrison's Death-World series circa 1960. It had onboard diagnostics and storage of component compounds, mixing up antidotes on demand.

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Re: Star Trek is not responsible for everything futuristic

Or The Doctors Bag or whatever the title was dating back even further and dramatised in a Twighlight Zone-like show in the 50's(??), Tales of Tomorrow or something like that. Might have been an Asimov story. I'm pretty sure it was one of the "Big Names" from the Golden Age of SF.

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Re: Star Trek is not responsible for everything futuristic

That's The Little Black Bag.

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Re: Star Trek is not responsible for everything futuristic

...or, like the few hundred years further evolved "ring".

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Edible insulin

Sounds quite similar to a crowdfunded effort to make edible insulin in Algae:

https://experiment.com/projects/support-our-efforts-to-demonstrate-that-insulin-and-oral-vaccines-can-be-cheaply-made-in-microalgae

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