Against this backdrop, the CSIR, in partnership with the Department of Science and Technology (DST), will be hosting the first international nanomedicine workshop in Africa. The workshop, titled 'Nanomedicine for infectious diseases of poverty - perspectives and possibilities', is scheduled for 27 to 31 March 2011 in the Magaliesberg.
"We appreciate the urgent need to develop innovative technologies to address the shortfalls of current therapies for these diseases of poverty," says Dr Hulda Swai, chair of the workshop's organising committee and head of the CSIR's nanomedicine platform.
Swai says the CSIR is building a nanomedicine platform, where research on the application of nanomedicine for improving therapies against malaria and HIV/Aids has been initiated.
Using TB as a model, researchers at the CSIR are heading up the development of a new way to deliver nanomedicine drug delivery system that aims to improve the current inadequate therapeutic management of TB. They have successfully nanoencapsulated four first line anti-TB drugs into polymeric nanoparticles. When compared to free drugs, the encapsulated drugs were slowly released over six days while maintaining the minimum inhibitory concentration; were not toxic to cells; and when administered to TB-infected mice once weekly, showed comparable efficacy to equal doses of free drugs, administered daily.
"We aim to expand our research to include other infectious diseases of poverty like chagas diseases, HAT and leishmaniasis," says Dr Swai.
Funding - a challenge
According to Swai, there is a general reluctance of pharmaceutical companies to readily invest in research for infectious diseases of poverty, mainly due to the low potential return on investment. The CSIR's TB nano drug delivery project has been funded and supported mainly by the DST. Some of the platform's other research projects and initiatives have been supported by the CSIR itself and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations Fund.
"We find ourselves in a unique position in Africa; we have built a substantial knowledge base in human capital, equipment, facilities and infrastructure in nanomedicine. Given our advantage, we see an urgent responsibility to contribute our knowledge in this field towards finding new and alternative therapies against infectious diseases of poverty," says Swai.
The workshop, to be held from 27 to 31 March this year at the Alpha Conference Centre at Amanzingwe Lodge, Magaliesberg, will be officially opened by South Africa's minister of science and technology, Mrs Naledi Pandor.
For more information, please visit the website at http://www.csir.co.za/msm/nano_workshop2011/index.html