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UC researchers in world-first nanotechnology research

UC researchers using hoki eye protein in world-first nanotechnology research

September 14, 2012

University of Canterbury (UC) scientists have started using cutting edge nanotechnology to turn protein from fish eye lenses into tiny components for use in devices to help doctors detect various illnesses such as cancer.

UC this week received more than $1 million to launch the project which will be breaking new barriers of scientific research.

They will be testing hoki fish eye lens protein nanofibres that are up to 10,000 times smaller than a strand of human hair and not visible to the naked eye. Every year more than 110,000 tonnes of hoki is fished in NZ waters and Christchurch’s based Independent Fisheries Ltd company are supplying UC researchers with all the hoki eyes they need.

``They can only be seen using big electron microscopes. Eye lenses contain approximately 90 percent proteins, so it is an easily accessible source to extract proteins for research,’’ project leader and UC scientist Dr Madhu Vasudevamurthy said today.

``By spending hours, days and weeks researching and analysing we have mastered a method of protein nanofibre manufacture using hoki eye lenses, a source unique to New Zealand. Through this research funding we want to produce results that could help in the detection of such illnesses as diabetes and cancer,’’ he said.

For the past two and half years, Dr Vasudevamurthy has been working in collaboration with Professor Juliet Gerrard, a world leading bionanotechnology expert at the UC’s state of the art Biomolecular Interaction Centre.

Bionanotechnology - nanotechnology developed using biological molecules - is still a growing area of science. UC has developed bionanotechnology expertise over the last eight years and they are now poised to focus on pioneering research.

``To our knowledge, we are currently the only group in the world with an ability to manufacture protein nanofibres on a large scale which will be hugely helpful in DIAGNOSING illnesses along with many other potential applications.

``We have a unique research centre that brings together experts from various backgrounds – including biochemists, chemists, chemical engineers, microbiologists and bio-informaticians.

``This unique combination of experts is a boon for young scientists like me who can tap into this expertise when faced with difficult research problems and through this research, NZ is poised to acquire some unique IP in the fast-growing area of bionanotechnology.’’

The research will be conducted in collaboration with the Technical University of Denmark which has expertise in the area.

The UC research aims to put New Zealand at the forefront of bionanotechnology research. The University currently has 13,000 students, 600 courses and is the third biggest employer in Christchurch.


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