The Research Chair in Advanced Macromolecular Architectures at Stellenbosch University is at the heart of cutting edge research in the field of nano-medicine that has the potential to revolutionise medical care.
Professor Bert Klumperman says this is a relatively new field that aims to combine existing pharmaceuticals with smart delivery mechanisms that could make the drugs more effective, either through lower dosage requirements or fewer side-effects.
The research is focused on experimenting in binding synthetic polymers to the active pharmaceutical in a bid to improve their effectiveness. Tumour drugs, for example, are insoluble and therefore difficult to administer, but that could all change if the correct delivery system is developed using the nano-chemistry techniques.
These systems are aimed at non-communicable diseases such as cancer and heart diseases, although Klumperman says one of the newer research projects is investigating a new delivery mechanism for malarial drugs.
Two other areas that could prove to have a huge impact include research into tissue engineering (that could repair organs, such as the brain, that may have been damaged through trauma or disease) and the development of an active hydrogel wound dressing in a double-layer material that could prevent infection.
The Chair is making a significant contribution to the development of local skills in this highly specialised area and is establishing South Africa as a meaningful participant in these new nano-medicine discoveries.
Klumperman sees this area as crucial to building the local skills base, creating high-tech spin-off companies and aiding in the health of society as a whole.