Since it was first extracted from the herb Sweet Wormwood (Artemisia annua) by Chinese scientists in the 1980s, artemisinin has proven to be a potent anti-malarial treatment.
Most patients treated with Artemisinin-based Combination Treatments (ACTs) show clinical improvement within 24 hours.
However, large-scale production of artemisinin drugs, which are used as part of a combination therapy to avoid development of resistance by malaria parasites, has so far relied on extraction technology based on the petroleum derived hexane - a toxic and potentially explosive substance.
In a search for a better extraction system, a team of chemical engineers from the University of Bath (UK) and a specialist UK business, FSC Development Services Ltd, were commissioned (in 2005) by the non-profit Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) and the Dutch Government to evaluate a range of new technologies that could replace hexane extraction, and make large-scale production both cheaper and more environmentally friendly.
In research published in the Journal of Natural Products, Dr Alexei Lapkin from the University’s Department of Chemical Engineering highlights three extraction processes that can compete with hexane extraction economically, as well as being better for the environment.
Now, using a £500,000 grant from the Dutch Government through MMV, some of these technologies will be demonstrated and tested over the next 12 months by a consortium of European companies and universities.
“Increased production of Artemisia annua is now happening in many countries around the world, but if we are to reduce the costs of the final drugs we need to increase yield through higher yielding varieties and introduce new, more efficient, safer and more environmentally friendly extraction systems,” said Dr Lapkin.
“The intention for this project is to build a small-scale demonstrator unit in Bath and prove its viability by extracting artemisinin from Artemisia annua plants grown in different countries and regions.
“The project will also explore purification methods of raw extracts to obtain material of good enough quality for pharmaceutical companies to buy for further processing into drug treatments.
“Our focus is on driving down the cost of extraction to help make this ‘wonder drug’ more readily available to the people who need it.”
Artemisinin is extracted from the Artemisia annua plant using a solvent which helps separate the different parts of the plant. The raw artemisinin is then purified to produce the final drug.
The most common solvent used in the current extraction process is hexane, an alkane hydrocarbon produced from crude oil that is both toxic and explosive, making it damaging to the environment and expensive to handle safely.
The research team examined alternative extraction technologies using either supercritical carbon dioxide (scCO2), hydrofluorocarbon HFC-134a, ionic liquids (ILs) or ethanol as alternative solvents. In this initial study they used data provided by technology developers in the UK, and compared it with the known data for hexane extraction.
They found that the technologies using scCO2, HFC and ILs, all of which are non-flammable solvents, gave faster extraction times and a more complete extraction of the useful substances in the leaf.
These solvents are also considerably safer, with no risk of explosions, and were much greener, having a lower environmental impact in use, and offering the potential for biodegradability after use.
Ionic liquid and HFC-134a technologies in particular showed considerable promise, and the analysis suggests that they could compete with hexane extraction in terms of cost-effectiveness.
Over the next nine months, a demonstrator unit using HFC-134a will be built at the University of Bath in collaboration with Ineos Fluor (UK). Bioniqs Ltd, a spin-off company from University of York (UK), will continue their work on ionic liquids extraction, and University of Bremen (Germany) will be testing extraction with another widely used solvent, ethanol.
The whole project is being co-ordinated by FSC Development Services Ltd, which is based in Gloucestershire (UK).
“MMV is pleased to support this project even though it is not our traditional line of work, as the focus is purely on technology rather than developing new drugs or treatments,” said Dr Ian Bathurst, Director of Drug Discovery & Technology at MMV.
“Developing technology that makes the extraction process as efficient and cost-effective as possible makes the mass production of artemisinin economically, environmentally and socially viable. This will have a significant impact on the new ACTs we are developing.”
Malcom Cutler, head of FSC Development Services Ltd., said: “This project is not about profit for companies; tackling malaria is not a business, but a challenge we must do everything we can to overcome.”
As the plasmodium parasite which causes malaria is able to mutate and develop resistance to the drugs used against it, it is important to have a variety of treatments available and to continue developing new medicines.
Andrew McLaughlin | alfa
Nerves control the body’s bacterial community
26.09.2017 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Ageless ears? Elderly barn owls do not become hard of hearing
26.09.2017 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg
Controlling electronic current is essential to modern electronics, as data and signals are transferred by streams of electrons which are controlled at high speed. Demands on transmission speeds are also increasing as technology develops. Scientists from the Chair of Laser Physics and the Chair of Applied Physics at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have succeeded in switching on a current with a desired direction in graphene using a single laser pulse within a femtosecond ¬¬ – a femtosecond corresponds to the millionth part of a billionth of a second. This is more than a thousand times faster compared to the most efficient transistors today.
Graphene is up to the job
At the productronica trade fair in Munich this November, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be presenting Laser-Based Tape-Automated Bonding, LaserTAB for short. The experts from Aachen will be demonstrating how new battery cells and power electronics can be micro-welded more efficiently and precisely than ever before thanks to new optics and robot support.
Fraunhofer ILT from Aachen relies on a clever combination of robotics and a laser scanner with new optics as well as process monitoring, which it has developed...
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
26.09.2017 | Life Sciences
26.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
26.09.2017 | Information Technology