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Change the world

27/01/2023

A new research chair in nanomedicine – the DSI-Mandela Nanomedicine Platform – was launched in the Faculty of Health Sciences last year as part of the Nelson Mandela University Medical School.

“My aim is to create a platform to significantly advance nanotechnology in South Africa,” says Dr Steven Mufamadi, who was appointed head of the Chair in October 2021.

“I’m obsessed with nano and, over the years, have developed strong local and international networks from which to develop partnerships that can work on life-changing innovations.”

Dr Mufamadi has served as a consultant for universities, government departments, regulatory authorities and pharmaceutical companies, locally and internationally. He is the founder and managing director of his nanomedicine consulting company, Nabio Consulting (Pty) Ltd.

His first major task at Nelson Mandela University was to build a nanomedicine laboratory from scratch on the Medical School’s Missionvale Campus. It was completed in August this year.

He has developed a transdisciplinary platform for master’s and PhD students from different disciplines, including pharmacy, physiology, environmental health and medical laboratory science and has also established an elective course in pharmaceutical nanotechnology for final year students in the Department of Pharmacy.

Initial research areas of the Chair offer exciting insights into unparalleled possibilities, thanks to science and technology.

These include innovative treatments for breast cancer, tackling pollution with robotics and synthetic blood.

Environmental Health Project Air Purifier (robotics)

“We want to create a robot that moves around and cleans the environment, by sucking in polluted air, including air polluted with TB and other harmful bacteria and viruses, including COVID-19,” says Dr Mufamadi.

The robot works like a vacuum cleaner that contains a vacuum space with active antiviral nanomaterials in the membranes of the filter that immediately kill the virus.

“The filter will be ready in about six months and once we see that the membranes are working, we’ll work with engineers to design the robot.”

Blood Transfusion Project

The South African National Blood Service faces the major problem of never having enough blood – or a particular blood group – when needed. Blood needs to be stored in a fridge, which is impractical for many parts of South Africa.

A blood substitute called Hemopure®, that comes in powder form and into which sterile water is added to create blood, has already been approved for use in South Africa for the treatment of acute surgical anaemia.

“One of our senior researchers is putting together a proposal to try and take this a step further by incorporating nanomaterials for added benefits, including blood that doesn’t need a blood group, that can be stored at normal room temperature and that is easy to use in ambulances and remote areas.”

They aim to have a prototype ready within a year.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most frequent cause of cancer death in South Africa. According to the 2014 National Cancer Registry (NCR), 1 in 27 women in South Africa are at a risk of developing breast cancer. Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) is the most aggressive form.

“We are working on a drug delivery system where we use nanoliposomes, lipid nanoparticles containing chemotherapy and/or green nanoparticles to develop a personalised nanomedicine for TNBC patients.

“We are also working on disease detection and diagnosis to develop a nano-biosensor for fast and accurate diagnosis of TNBC. Mintek has already designed this, but we’re taking a different approach.

“We’re working with green nanoparticles that use plant extract such as Cannabis sativa and microalgae as a reducing agent, both of which have so many phytochemicals/biomolecules that fight disease.

“We’re partnering with InnoVenton (Institute for Chemical Technology) at Nelson Mandela University on this, as they specialise in microalgae. We engineer the green/microalgae nanoparticles to look like a microorganism (e.g. bacteria or a virus) that then seeks out where the virus is hiding in the body and targets it, either ripping it apart or blocking its growth.”

Contact information
Dr Steven Mufamadi
Research Chair
Tel: 041 504 1833
Maluta.Mufamadi@mandela.ac.za