The little science takes big steps at Deakin
An international collaboration between Deakin University's Professor Ian Chen and colleagues at the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa has taken a huge step towards making the delivery of drugs in the human body more targeted and thus more effective.
It is also helping put Deakin's new Institute for Technology Research and Innovation (ITRI) on the world map as a place for groundbreaking research in nanotechnology.
The results of Dr Chen's and his Italian students' research work have just been published in the prestigious international journal Current Nanoscience.
Their paper is entitled: Boron Nitride Nanotubes: A Novel Vector for Targeted Magnetic Drug Delivery.
That is a prosaic description for something that offers huge hope to people suffering from a wide range of diseases including cancer, particularly where existing treatments find it hard to target affected parts of the body.
"Because of this there is a lot of interest in our work," Professor Chen said.
"We use hollow nanotubes as a container to store the drugs inside.
"The drugs and the nanotubes are so small so as to be invisible to the doctor's eyes."
The nanotubes, called BNNTs, are made from Boron Nitride, something that had not been considered in the area of targeted magnetic drug delivery until taken up by Dr Chen and his colleagues.
The early results are highly promising.
In vitro tests on human neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y cells have shown that the cellular uptake of fluorescent BNNTs can be modulated with an external magnetic field.
Simply, once the nanotubes containing the drugs have been placed inside the body, they can be transported to the affected area using magnets.
Once there, the nanotube container is then broken down by the body's fluids and the drug is released directly into the targeted area.
This project is just one of many that Professor Chen brought to ITRI when he took up the Institute's inaugural Chair of Nanotechnology earlier this year.
The research by Dr Chen and his growing team at Deakin will focus on nanomaterials for new energy storage (solar cells, batteries and capacitors), environmental protection and medical applications.
Nanotechnology is called the small science.
However, Professor Chen sees it having a big impact not just at Deakin but on the peoples of the world whether they just want the battery in their camera to last long enough to get all the shots they want, or they want life saving medicines delivered more efficiently.