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DST fights disease with nanotechnology
Sun, 24 Apr 2011

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) has acquired a High Resolution Transmission Electron Microscopy that will advance nanotechnology research.

Speaking at the international workshop on Nanomedicine for Infectious Diseases of Poverty this week, science and technology minister Naledi Pandor said the microscope will be located at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

“This facility will push the frontiers for nanotechnology research and will be commissioned during the second half of the current year.”

She added that this is in addition to programmes for knowledge generation and human-capital development in the field of nanotechnology.

Disease busters

Pandor said there is a need to pool resources and take deliberate steps to combat diseases like malaria, TB, and HIV and AIDS.

“We have stepped up investment in emerging research areas in general and in our national nanotechnology strategy in particular.”

She said one of the main goals of the strategy is to focus on nanotechnology in the area of health.

The minister added that the department has established two nanotechnology innovation centres at its two main science councils, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Mintek.

“The two nano innovation centres have a budget of R134 million over the current MTEF [medium-term expenditure framework].”

Pandor also congratulated the CSIR for the significant progress made in encapsulating all four first-line TB drugs in nano-polymer, using a technology it has now patented.

Multiple benefits

Professor Viness Pillay, professor of pharmaceutics and NRF research chair in the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, at Wits University, says working at the nano scale allows researchers to harness new properties of particles, as they behave differently at an atomic level.

Nano particles have dimensions in nanometres (nm), or one billionth of a metre. To get an idea of the size, picture a human hair – that’s a hefty 80 000nm.

Working at the nano level allows completely new materials with unique properties to be created, adds professor Neerish Revaprasadu, from the University of Zululand.

Among the list of possibilities presented by nanotechnology, it is credited with the potential to dramatically improve the condition of the world’s poorest people, according to the Government Communications and Information System.

“Nanotechnology inventions can help fight disease, improve food production, provide for cleaner water, make the transport of goods easier and cheaper to people in remote areas, and provide clean and cheap energy sources.”

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