Nov. 15 - Scientists in the US are developing powerful new drugs by using sound waves to make their chemical components levitate in mid-air. It's part of a new technique that researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory hope will lead to the creation of drugs more effective than those currently available. Ben Gruber has more.
These tiny plastic spheres are floating in mid-air... and while it may seem like a trick, physicist Chris Benmore says it not magic, it's science. Using technology originally developed by NASA, Benmore has set up a pair of speakers that shoot identical sound waves at one another . (SOUNDBITE) (English) CHRIS BENMORE, PHYSICIST, ARGONNE NATIONAL LABORATORY, SAYING: "A sound wave is essentially a pressure wave so what you really have is a pressure wave coming in one direction and another pressure wave a equal size coming in the other direction. And where those pressure waves meet they cancel and that creates a little pocket of space. So if you put an object in that space, if it tries to get out it will be pushed back in by either wave." And while levitation looks impressive, Benmore hopes it will have an equally magical impact on the production of new, more powerful drugs. The goal, he says, is to develop drugs with amorphous or glassy molecular structures. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CHRIS BENMORE, PHYSICIST, ARGONNE NATIONAL LABORATORY, SAYING: "The key to making things glassy or amorphous is to try to deeply super-cool a liquid. And the best way to deeply super-cool a liquid is by not having a container because if you have a surface that interacts with a container that creates little nucleation points where it can form a crystal. So if there is no surface you are more likely to keep in the liquid state and super-cool all the way through to a glass. And a glass can have very different properties than a crystal." Benmore says amorphous drugs are a lot more soluble in the body than those with crystal structures - and therefore significantly more powerful in treating many diseases. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CHRIS BENMORE, PHYSICIST, ARGONNE NATIONAL LABORATORY, SAYING: "We are working on different classes of drugs. Particularly HIV drugs as well as co-crystals as well as other to see where it is best effective." The arduous task of cataloguing the drugs best suited for amorphous structuring and finding a way to scale up production are the main barriers to industrializing the process of drug development through levitation. But given its potential for producing more effective drugs, Benmore says he thinks it's inevitable that pharmaceutical companies will soon want to float the idea for themselves.