Acoustic Levitation Inspires Development of Better Drugs


Really exciting stuff is coming out of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory. They have discovered a way to leverage sound waves to levitate individual droplets of liquid solutions containing different pharmaceuticals. This technique can be used to improve the drug development process, with the aim to create more effective pharmaceuticals with fewer side effects.

The device that Argonne has constructed is called an acoustic levitator and it uses two small speakers to generate sound waves at frequencies slightly above the audible range – roughly 22 kilohertz. When the top and bottom speakers are precisely aligned, they create two sets of sound waves that perfectly interfere with each other, setting up a phenomenon known as a standing wave.

Along the standing wave, there are nodes at which there is no net transfer of energy at all. Since the acoustic pressure from the sound waves is sufficient to cancel out the effect of gravity, individual droplets of liquid are able to levitate when placed at the nodes.

At the molecular level, there are two types of drugs – amorphous and crystalline. Amorphous drugs typically are more efficiently taken up by the body than the crystalline ones, which means that lower doses can be used to reach the desired effects. By lowering the dosage, unwanted side effects can be mitigated.

“One of the biggest challenges when it comes to drug development is in reducing the amount of the drug needed to attain the therapeutic benefit, whatever it is,” said Argonne X-ray physicist Chris Benmore, who led the study.

“Most drugs on the market are crystalline – they don’t get fully absorbed by the body and thus we aren’t getting the most efficient use out of them,” added Yash Vaishnav, Argonne Senior Manager for Intellectual Property Development and Commercialization.

Argonne scientists are hoping to gain new insights into the development process of amorphous drugs. However, at present – applying the acoustic levitator – only small quantities of a drug can be ‘amorphized’. Nevertheless, it acts as a powerful analytical tool for better understanding the optimal conditions and process for developing amorphous drugs.

Watch the video above that shows the acoustic levitator in action.

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