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Levitation Technique Devised to Create More Soluble Drugs

Levitating drug solution (Dan Harris, Argonne National Lab)

Levitating drug solution (Dan Harris, Argonne National Lab)

Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory, a division of the U.S. Department of Energy in Illinois, developed techniques making it more feasible to create drugs that are more soluble, and thus more effective in lower doses. X-ray physicist Chris Benmore led the study that uses levitation to suspend the solution in air while it evaporates, leaving a pristine sample of the compound.

Pharmaceuticals can be in either crystalline or amorphous form, with amorphous state being the more desirable because it yields drugs that are more efficiently processed by the body, a result of higher solubility and efficacy at lower doses. Most drugs, however, are in crystalline form.

The trick is to get compounds that start as solutions to transform into an amorphous state. Once in contact with a container, a solution takes the shape of its container and evaporation, when in contact with the container, is more likely to result in crystals.

Benmore then needed to find a way to capture finite amounts of a solution and allow them to evaporate with going into a container. To achieve this “containerless” capture, Benmore and colleagues turned to a technique developed at NASA to simulate microgravity conditions. The technique, called acoustic levitation, allows small, pristine samples of solutions to suspend in air while evaporation occurs.

Acoustic levitation uses two small speakers, vertically and precisely aligned, to generate sound waves at a frequency slightly above the audible range at 22 kilohertz. The speakers each then produce a set of sound waves that interfere with each other, creating what is called a standing wave.

The standing wave has points, called nodes, where no net transfer of energy occurs. The acoustic pressure from the sound waves at the nodes is sufficient to cancel the effect of gravity, allowing light objects to suspend in air when placed at the nodes.

Argonne researchers so far have tried levitation on some 12 current drug compounds. At this time, however, only small quantities of of a drug can be made amorphous using this technique.

The lab’s technology transfer office filed a patent for this process, and is seeking a licensing partner in the pharmaceutical industry to develop the technology further. Argonne is also partnering with pharmacy and chemistry researchers at Purdue University and Arizona State to identify the drugs on which levitation can have the most impact.

In the following video. Chris Benmore demonstrates the levitation technique.

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