Known as 'the technology of the very small', nanotechnology enables scientists to manipulate materials and particles that are a billionth of a metre, or about 1/80 000th of the diameter of a human hair.
The nanocapsules were being tested on animals, and the developers hoped that they would eventually decrease the number and frequency of drugs used by TB patients.
Addressing the World Nano Economic Congress 2007 at the CSIR in Pretoria on Monday, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Derek Hanekom said that, although effective treatment was currently available, patients had to take up to four anti-TB drugs several times a week for up to six months, which often resulted in compliance challenges.
“Owing to the slow degrading and the slow release mechanism of the carrier systems, drug release can be prolonged through nano-based drug delivery systems, allowing for the administration of drugs once in seven days, instead of the current daily dosage.”
Hanekom pointed out that 250 000 new cases of TB were diagnosed annually in South Africa, saying that it was a major cause of death on the subcontinent, mainly owing to coinfection of HIV/aids.
The same technology was being applied for malaria, HIV/Aids and other diseases where patient compliance was high.
It was estimated that $12,4-billion was invested in nanotech research and development worldwide in 2006 and over $50-billion worth of nanoenabled products were sold in the same year.
“The trend was highlighted last week by President Putin when he unveiled a $1-billion initiative to develop nanotechnology and turn the Kurchatov Nuclear Institute into the country’s research hub for nanoscience,” Hanekom said.
In line with the global trend, South Africa has developed its own nanotechnology strategy, aimed at guiding and assisting achievement of a competitive growing economy and improving the quality of life.
Speaking to Engineering News Online on the sidelines of the conference, Hanekom said that while there had been a bid for R450-million of nanotechnology funding for the next three years, only R170-million had been granted.
He added however, that government had embarked on a series of programmes aimed at enabling nanotechnology research and development, and was in the process of establishing two nanotechnology centres to serve as the hub of nanotechnology activities.
The centres will be housed at the CSIR and Mintek.
“All the groundwork has been done, the infrastructure is already under way and we expect the centres to be fully operational before the end of this year. We are busy procuring equipment,” stated CSIR spokesperson Joseph Molapisi.