Painkillers: Modified Yeast Might Change The Future Of Pain Management

In the future, it may be possible to make your own painkillers from modified yeast. Scientists from Stanford University have published their findings in Science. The scientists discovered that they could reprogram yeast by adding over 20 genes to it. The genes that were used came from bacteria, rats, poppies, and flowers. By doing this, the yeast was able to be modified to have the same chemical properties as narcotic painkillers. The process that the scientists at Stanford used can also be used on other medications to be made from modified yeast. One of the researchers, Christina Smolke, commented on the discovery.

“The techniques we developed and demonstrate for opioid pain relievers can be adapted to produce many plant-derived compounds to fight cancers, infectious diseases and chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and arthritis.”

Smolke also explains a little bit about making painkillers from modified yeast.

“You can think of it as an assembly line process. It starts with sugar which gets broken down, then begins to get built up into more complex molecules.”

Even though this discovery is a potential game changer for chronic pain sufferers, it is easy to see that this discovery can be abused. Biologist Vincent Martin explains how the modified yeast could become a problem.

“Poppy fields are not readily available to someone in Chicago, whereas yeast can be made available to anyone.”

Currently, the process involved in making narcotic painkillers can take up to a year. Access to the plants that are used to make painkillers is highly regulated. Extraction of the molecules from the poppies is also very time-consuming. Since the poppies are a plant they can also fall victim to droughts, insects, and other issues that could lead to a shortage. With the modified yeast, painkillers can be manufactured in days as opposed to a year. The yeast also protects against any issues that could arise that would damage the poppy crop.

Scientists will be able to have more control over the compound they are wanting to make by genetically altering yeast. The next hurdle in this new process is to increase the amount of painkillers that can be obtained from the modified yeast method.

Will painkillers from modified yeast change the way other medications are made in the future? Will this help those that suffer with chronic pain? Will this have any impact on the drug black market?

[Image via Thesilverink.com]