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Nanomedicine holds promise in fight against HIV/Aids

University of the North West academic Lebogang Katata-Seru
Nabio director Steven Mufumadi
Department of Science and Technology official Fhumulani Maanda

The South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) in partnership with Nanotech and Biotech (Nabio) Consulting brought together a wide array of experts to explore the role nanomedicine can play in the fight against HIV/Aids.

The “Nanomedicine: The new approach towards HIV/AIDS Eradication” symposium took place shortly after World Aids Day, which is commemorated on 1 December annually. The UNAIDS World AIDS Day theme for 2011 to 2015 was: “Getting to Zero”. In 2015, South Africa focussed on Zero Discrimination, without losing sight of the other “zeroes”, such as zero new HIV infections and zero AIDS-related deaths.

The expert speakers at the symposium underscored the great promise that nanomedicine, which is the application of nanotechnology to the prevention and treatment of disease in the human body, holds. Nanomedicine could overcome some of the challenges of the current HIV/Aids treatments, University of the North West academic Lebogang Katata-Seru said.

The limitations of the current treatments include that some ARV drugs cause gastrointestinal degradation leading to low bioavailability and lengthy treatment. There is low adherence to HIV treatment due to adverse side effects, and ARVs cannot cross biological barriers for delivery to cellular and anatomical sites and suffer from short residence time at the cellular and anatomical sites.

Another limitation is that discontinuation or shortage of treatment could lead to drug resistance.

NNanotechnology-based delivery of antiretroviral therapy could help overcome these limitations. “(It) improves solubility and allows sustained release of the antiretroviral drug,” Katata-Seru said.

“(Nanotechnology-based delivery of antiretroviral therapy reduces) toxicity and improves bioavailability. (Further, it) allows efficient crossing of the drug across cellular barriers or the ability to traverse the epithelial/endothelial barriers.”

She said the advantages of HIV/Aids nanomedicine were immense, but there were challenges as well. These included that nanoparticles were not easily degraded or metabolised and might accumulate over a period of time, and that high toxicity issues resulted in DNA damage and cellular apoptosis.

Further, while several preclinical trials showed promise, scaling up was challenging and expensive. Most of the research had not proceeded beyond the pre-clinical stage.

Nabio director Steven Mufamadi agreed that nanomedicine could help South Africa to eradicate HIV/AIDS. Scientists were working on a nanogel-microbicide to prevent HIV.

Over and above the next-generation “therapeutic” delivery vehicles, nanotechnology could help with early detection and rapid testing for HIV/AIDS among other things. “Nanomedicine helps to facilitate the quick detection (of HIV), instead of waiting for three months for HIV test results. “With nanomedicine you can have results immediately,” Mufumadi said.

Fhumulani Maanda, representing the Department of Science and Technology (DST), said the government believed that nanotechnology held great promise. To this end, the DST had adopted a nanotechnology strategy that focussed on several strategic research areas.

The research areas include the applications of nanotechnology in health, energy and water in the social cluster. In the industrial cluster the focus was on mining and minerals, chemical and bioprocessing, and advanced materials and manufacturing.