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New machine to change medicine

PUBLISHED: 09:00 30 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:02 03 July 2010

A pioneering machine developed in Norwich, which eats roast dinners and curries, is set to change the face of the medicine industry across the world when it goes on sale.

A pioneering machine developed in Norwich, which eats roast dinners and curries, is set to change the face of the medicine industry across the world when it goes on sale.

Scientists at the Institute of Food Research have produced the world's first accurate model of a working stomach, which is allowing them to study the complex methods of digestion of every kind of food and drug in any combination.

They hope the model, which took 15 years to develop, will help to reduce levels of obesity in society and minimise the amount of animal testing conducted by the pharmaceuticals industry, as well as speeding up the time it takes to develop medicines and reduce their cost.

The machine is based on an adult male stomach and is topped up with different chemicals, acids, salts and enzymes found in the human stomach and then 'fed' with meals, which are pre-chewed by one of the developers, Dr Richard Faulks.

His colleague Dr Martin Wickham said that although the machine was initially developed as a research project, it would soon be marketed globally by Norwich technology company Plant Biosciences Ltd (PBL).

Dr Wickham said: “We have two of the same machines here at the moment and they are the only two in the world. They are helping to develop foods that control satiety, which means they make you feel full and therefore can combat obesity.

“We also hope the use of our model can help to speed up the time it takes to develop pharmaceuticals and help to reduce the failures in pharmaceutical development and, therefore, reduce the cost.

“At the moment, the pharmaceutical industry needs to use animals, but it is quite possible that this model could also be used to replace some of that testing in the future. It has only been in the last 15 to 20 years that we have had the technology available to do non-invasive investigations on humans, with things like MRI scanning, and I am delighted with what we have produced - it has taken more or less my whole career.

“We are now talking to manufacturers who will start to produce units we can sell. I would hope they will be going into production within two years.”

The machine, which cost more than £1m to develop, has also helped the scientists to understand what happ-ens in the stomach when alcohol and medicines are combined, and reveal-ed the dangers of this occurring.

Martin Stocks, business development manager of PBL, said: “Everyone thinks of the stomach as just a bag full of fluids and enzymes, but it's a very complicated organ and this machine replicates those complexities exactly.

“It's most valuable utility has turned out to be for the pharmaceutical industry to examine how drug formulations work when they are taken into the stomach. This is very definitely a world first and we are currently focused on developing this aspect of the market.”

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