Who shrank the drug factory? Briefcase-sized labs could transform medicine
Govind Rao greets visitors to his lab just outside Baltimore with two things: a warm handshake and a chart. Almost before introductions are complete, Rao ushers guests into his windowless office at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), and pulls up a graph on his battered laptop. On it, a steeply sloping line charts health spending in the United States over the past 40 years.
“It just goes up and up. How many lives is this costing?” he asks.
Rao’s solution sits in a sleek, stainless-steel briefcase on a table across from his desk. He pops the latch and flips open the lid to reveal a series of interconnected, fist-sized black boxes. They are filled with vials the size of a paper clip, fed by syringes and joined by clear plastic tubes not much thicker than a human hair. Add a source of electricity, some freeze-dried cell parts and a pinch of DNA, and the portable devices allow anyone to start making sophisticated drugs for just a few dollars. The system is called Bio-MOD, or Biologic Medications on Demand, and Rao says that it has the potential to change the direction of the precipitous curve on his laptop.