Tag Archives: Thailand

Graphene Malaysia 2016 gathering and Malaysia’s National Graphene Action Plan 2020

Malaysia is getting ready to host a graphene conference according to an Oct. 10, 2016 news item on Nanotechnology Now,

The Graphene Malaysia 2016 [Nov. 8 – 9, 2016] (www.graphenemalaysiaconf.com) is jointly organized by NanoMalaysia Berhad and Phantoms Foundation. The conference will be centered on graphene industry interaction and collaborative innovation. The event will be launched under the National Graphene Action Plan 2020 (NGAP 2020), which will generate about 9,000 jobs and RM20 (US$4.86) billion GNI impact by the year 2020.

First speakers announced:
Murni Ali (Nanomalaysia, Malaysia) | Francesco Bonaccorso (Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Italy) | Antonio Castro Neto (NUS, Singapore) | Antonio Correia (Phantoms Foundation, Spain)| Pedro Gomez-Romero (ICN2 (CSIC-BIST), Spain) | Shu-Jen Han (Nanoscale Science & Technology IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, USA) | Kuan-Tsae Huang (AzTrong, USA/Taiwan) | Krzysztof Koziol (FGV Cambridge Nanosystems, UK) | Taavi Madiberk (Skeleton Technologies, Estonia) | Richard Mckie (BAE Systems, UK) | Pontus Nordin (Saab AB, Saab Aeronautics, Sweden) | Elena Polyakova (Graphene Laboratories Inc., USA) | Ahmad Khairuddin Abdul Rahim (Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA), Malaysia) | Adisorn Tuantranont (Thailand Organic and Printed Electronics Innovation Center, Thailand) |Archana Venugopal (Texas Instruments, USA) | Won Jong Yoo (Samsung-SKKU Graphene-2D Center (SSGC), South Korea) | Hongwei Zhu (Tsinghua University, China)

You can check for more information and deadlines in the Nanotechnology Now Oct. 10, 2016 news item.

The Graphene Malalysia 2016 conference website can be found here and Malaysia’s National Graphene Action Plan 2020, which is well written, can be found here (PDF).  This portion from the executive summary offers some insight into Malyasia’s plans to launch itself into the world of high income nations,

Malaysia’s aspiration to become a high-income nation by 2020 with improved jobs and better outputs is driving the country’s shift away from “business as usual,” and towards more innovative and high value add products. Within this context, and in accordance with National policies and guidelines, Graphene, an emerging, highly versatile carbon-based nanomaterial, presents a unique opportunity for Malaysia to develop a high value economic ecosystem within its industries.  Isolated only in 2004, Graphene’s superior physical properties such as electrical/ thermal conductivity, high strength and high optical transparency, combined with its manufacturability have raised tremendous possibilities for its application across several functions and make it highly interesting for several applications and industries.  Currently, Graphene is still early in its development cycle, affording Malaysian companies time to develop their own applications instead of relying on international intellectual property and licenses.

Considering the potential, several leading countries are investing heavily in associated R&D. Approaches to Graphene research range from an expansive R&D focus (e.g., U.S. and the EU) to more focused approaches aimed at enhancing specific downstream applications with Graphene (e.g., South Korea). Faced with the need to push forward a multitude of development priorities, Malaysia must be targeted in its efforts to capture Graphene’s potential, both in terms of “how to compete” and “where to compete”. This National Graphene Action Plan 2020 lays out a set of priority applications that will be beneficial to the country as a whole and what the government will do to support these efforts.

Globally, much of the Graphene-related commercial innovation to date has been upstream, with producers developing techniques to manufacture Graphene at scale. There has also been some development in downstream sectors, as companies like Samsung, Bayer MaterialScience, BASF and Siemens explore product enhancement with Graphene in lithium-ion battery anodes and flexible displays, and specialty plastic and rubber composites. However the speed of development has been uneven, offering Malaysian industries willing to invest in innovation an opportunity to capture the value at stake. Since any innovation action plan has to be tailored to the needs and ambitions of local industry, Malaysia will focus its Graphene action plan initially on larger domestic industries (e.g., rubber) and areas already being targeted by the government for innovation such as energy storage for electric vehicles and conductive inks.

In addition to benefiting from the physical properties of Graphene, Malaysian downstream application providers may also capture the benefits of a modest input cost advantage for the domestic production of Graphene.  One commonly used Graphene manufacturing technique, the chemical vapour deposition (CVD) production method, requires methane as an input, which can be sourced economically from local biomass. While Graphene is available commercially from various producers around the world, downstream players may be able to enjoy some cost advantage from local Graphene supply. In addition, co-locating with a local producer for joint product development has the added benefit of speeding up the R&D lifecycle.

That business about finding downstream applications could also to the Canadian situation where we typically offer our resources (upstream) but don’t have an active downstream business focus. For example, we have graphite mines in Ontario and Québec which supply graphite flakes for graphene production which is all upstream. Less well developed are any plans for Canadian downstream applications.

Finally, it was interesting to note that the Phantoms Foundation is organizing this Malaysian conference since the same organization is organizing the ‘2nd edition of Graphene & 2D Materials Canada 2016 International Conference & Exhibition’ (you can find out more about the Oct. 18 – 20, 2016 event in my Sept. 23, 2016 posting). I think the Malaysians have a better title for their conference, far less unwieldy.

Panasonic powers up a village in Myanmar with photovoltaics

This story reminded me of an account I read (when I was working in the city’s archives) of Vancouver’s (Canada) West End where residents were advised against going out at night after the sun set because there was no street lighting. And, in those days (19th century) the city was still somewhat forested with bears, foxes, coyotes, and other wild animals being a lot more common that they are today. (Vancouver is a big city but there are coyote warning signs on its beaches and residents of North Vancouver [a nearby municipality] occasionally have awakened to find bears in their backyards.)

Moving onto the true subject of this posting, Myanmar and power, a Sept. 22, 2016 news item on phys.org announced the presence of a new power grid in a village in Myanmar,

Panasonic Corporation provided the Power Supply Station; a stand-alone photovoltaic power package, to the village of Yin Ma Chaung, a Magway Region of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. The Power Supply Station is installed as part of a CSR [Corporate social responsibility?] effort by the Sustainable Alternative Livelihood Development Project, supported by the Mae Fah Luang Foundation under Royal Patronage (MFL Foundation) of the Kingdom of Thailand. This project was rolled out in partnership with Mitsui & Co., Ltd as one of their CSR activities, and funded by donations to support the mission of the MFL Foundation’s activities.

A Sept. 22, 2016 Panasonic press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail about the power station,

Panasonic’s power supply station consists of solar modules and storage batteries, which enables energy to be created, stored and managed efficiently. The whole system is able to supply electricity to the entire village, relieving approximately 140 households in the non-electrified mountainous village by powering up electrical appliances and lights, which are essential and important in daily lives.

The presence of lightings [sic] in the village makes it possible for villagers to move around during the night, as prior to that; they were unable to do so since the area is inhabited by poisonous snakes. In addition, all the street lights have time-switch LED bulbs that could also make use of limited electricity, efficiently.

In Myanmar, its off-grid areas are said to be at the highest level among the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] countries, at approximately 68%1 across the nation. In its countryside, the number reaches to an estimate of 84%2 households being unconnected to electricity. To step up on its efforts, Panasonic also installed a refrigerator in the village’s meeting area to store anti-venom drugs. With a well-powered point, the meeting area has thus serves as a center for welfare, entertainment and other purposes.

The whole initiative aimed to provide additional electricity to surrounding villages as well; contributing to the entire Yenan Chuang Township.

Panasonic will continue to develop localized solutions in its bid to provide electricity to off-grid regions and improves the standard of living amongst communities, around the world.

The Power Supply Station is equipped with twelve Panasonic HIT solar modules and can output approximately 3 kW of electricity. It is also equipped with 24 storage batteries (approximately 17 kWh), enabling it to supply stored power.

Features of the Power Supply Station stand-alone photovoltaic power package

(1) Stable quality and performance achieved by production at the factory

The Power Supply Station was developed as a mass produced product to deliver stable quality overseas. The unit for this project was manufactured and its quality was controlled by our Thai subsidiary, Panasonic Eco Solutions Steel (Thailand) Co., Ltd., before delivery to Myanmar.

(2)Simple and quick assembly for portability and expansion

The station is designed to eliminate the need for on-site professional construction work, allowing an electrical contractor to easily and quickly install it.

(3) Utilization of proven Panasonic technologies

The station uses Panasonic HIT 3 solar modules to provide power efficiently, even in restricted spaces. The company’s newly developed power supply main unit acts as the energy management system to monitor the remaining electricity level of the lead-acid storage batteries and controls supply and demand, reducing deterioration of the batteries. This reduces the life-cycle cost and maintenance man-hours for the storage batteries.

There is a video which reminds you of what life could be like without electricity in the context of this Power Supply Station installation,

It’s nice to be reminded of how magical electricity and all its accoutrements are as so many of us with easy access take it all for granted.

3D printed clothing

A seamless garment or article of footwear would minimize skin irritation for those of us not able to afford custom couture and an April 19, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily offers hope in an announcement of efforts by a team of UK scientists to change the textile industry’s approach to garment and footwear construction,

Loughborough University has teamed up with global textile and garment manufacturer the Yeh Group, to embark on landmark work in 3D textile printing that could revolutionise how clothes and footwear are made.

Personalised 3D printed fashion — manufactured within 24 hours — is the end goal of a new project led by Loughborough University that’s set to change the way we shop for clothes.

An April 18, 2016 Loughborough University press release, which originated the news item, describes the project (Note: Links have been removed),

Dr Guy Bingham, Senior Lecturer in Product and Industrial Design, has teamed up with global textile and garment manufacturer the Yeh Group, to embark on landmark work in 3D textile printing that could revolutionise how clothes and footwear are made.

The 18-month project[1], known as 3D Fashion, will see Dr Bingham – a world leader in his field – produce 3D wearable, full size, Additive Manufacturing (AM) textile garments and footwear – with design input from a major fashion house.

Advancements in AM textiles have made it possible to produce 3D printed garments directly from raw material, such as polymer, in a single manufacturing operation. This technology not only has the potential to reduce waste, labour costs and CO2e, but can modernise clothing production by encouraging localised manufacturing and production.

Currently, garment manufacture generates 1.8 million tonnes of waste material – equivalent to 70kg or 100 pairs of jeans per UK household, with 6.3 billion m³ of water used in the process – equivalent to 200,000 litres per year per household or 1,000 filled bathtubs[2].

Dr Bingham said: “With 3D printing there is no limit to what you can build and it is this design freedom which makes the technology so exciting by bringing to life what was previously considered to be impossible.

“This landmark technology allows us as designers to innovate faster and create personalised, ready-to-wear fashion in a digital world with no geometrical constraints and almost zero waste material. We envisage that with further development of the technology, we could 3D print a garment within 24 hours.

David Yeh, Managing Director, Tong Siang (Yeh Group), said: “3D Fashion supports the Yeh Group vision of direct polymer to garment manufacture. The Yeh Group is always striving to cut out unnecessary waste and resource use, and support the industries goals of faster to market, creating a manufacturing technology that brands and retailers can install closer to their customers. This is all with no compromise to performance.”

Loughborough University has produced a video about this project,

You can find out more about the Yeh Group on their website or on their Facebook page. I believe the company is headquartered in Thailand but I can’t tell if Tong Siang (the Yeh Group? on LinkedIn) is the corporate parent, the subsidiary, or an alternate company name.

Global overview of nano-enabled food and agriculture regulation

First off, this post features an open access paper summarizing global regulation of nanotechnology in agriculture and food production. From a Sept. 11, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

An overview of regulatory solutions worldwide on the use of nanotechnology in food and feed production shows a differing approach: only the EU and Switzerland have nano-specific provisions incorporated in existing legislation, whereas other countries count on non-legally binding guidance and standards for industry. Collaboration among countries across the globe is required to share information and ensure protection for people and the environment, according to the paper …

A Sept. 11, 2015 European Commission Joint Research Centre press release (also on EurekAlert*), which originated the news item, summarizes the paper in more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

The paper “Regulatory aspects of nanotechnology in the agri/feed/food sector in EU and non-EU countries” reviews how potential risks or the safety of nanotechnology are managed in different countries around the world and recognises that this may have implication on the international market of nano-enabled agricultural and food products.

Nanotechnology offers substantial prospects for the development of innovative products and applications in many industrial sectors, including agricultural production, animal feed and treatment, food processing and food contact materials. While some applications are already marketed, many other nano-enabled products are currently under research and development, and may enter the market in the near future. Expected benefits of such products include increased efficacy of agrochemicals through nano-encapsulation, enhanced bioavailability of nutrients or more secure packaging material through microbial nanoparticles.

As with any other regulated product, applicants applying for market approval have to demonstrate the safe use of such new products without posing undue safety risks to the consumer and the environment. Some countries have been more active than others in examining the appropriateness of their regulatory frameworks for dealing with the safety of nanotechnologies. As a consequence, different approaches have been adopted in regulating nano-based products in the agri/feed/food sector.

The analysis shows that the EU along with Switzerland are the only ones which have introduced binding nanomaterial definitions and/or specific provisions for some nanotechnology applications. An example would be the EU labelling requirements for food ingredients in the form of ‘engineered nanomaterials’. Other regions in the world regulate nanomaterials more implicitly mainly by building on non-legally binding guidance and standards for industry.

The overview of existing legislation and guidances published as an open access article in the Journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology is based on information gathered by the JRC, RIKILT-Wageningen and the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) through literature research and a dedicated survey.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Regulatory aspects of nanotechnology in the agri/feed/food sector in EU and non-EU countries by Valeria Amenta, Karin Aschberger, , Maria Arena, Hans Bouwmeester, Filipa Botelho Moniz, Puck Brandhoff, Stefania Gottardo, Hans J.P. Marvin, Agnieszka Mech, Laia Quiros Pesudo, Hubert Rauscher, Reinhilde Schoonjans, Maria Vittoria Vettori, Stefan Weigel, Ruud J. Peters. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology Volume 73, Issue 1, October 2015, Pages 463–476 doi:10.1016/j.yrtph.2015.06.016

This is the most inclusive overview I’ve seen yet. The authors cover Asian countries, South America, Africa, and the MIddle East, as well as, the usual suspects in Europe and North America.

Given I’m a Canadian blogger I feel obliged to include their summary of the Canadian situation (Note: Links have been removed),

4.2. Canada

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), who have recently joined the Health Portfolio of Health Canada, are responsible for food regulation in Canada. No specific regulation for nanotechnology-based food products is available but such products are regulated under the existing legislative and regulatory frameworks.11 In October 2011 Health Canada published a “Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials” (Health Canada, 2011), the document provides a (working) definition of NM which is focused, similarly to the US definition, on the nanoscale dimensions, or on the nanoscale properties/phenomena of the material (see Annex I). For what concerns general chemicals regulation in Canada, the New Substances (NS) program must ensure that new substances, including substances that are at the nano-scale (i.e. NMs), are assessed in order to determine their toxicological profile ( Environment Canada, 2014). The approach applied involves a pre-manufacture and pre-import notification and assessment process. In 2014, the New Substances program published a guidance aimed at increasing clarity on which NMs are subject to assessment in Canada ( Environment Canada, 2014).

Canadian and US regulatory agencies are working towards harmonising the regulatory approaches for NMs under the US-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) Nanotechnology Initiative.12 Canada and the US recently published a Joint Forward Plan where findings and lessons learnt from the RCC Nanotechnology Initiative are discussed (Canada–United States Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) 2014).

Based on their summary of the Canadian situation, with which I am familiar, they’ve done a good job of summarizing. Here are a few of the countries whose regulatory instruments have not been mentioned here before (Note: Links have been removed),

In Turkey a national or regional policy for the responsible development of nanotechnology is under development (OECD, 2013b). Nanotechnology is considered as a strategic technological field and at present 32 nanotechnology research centres are working in this field. Turkey participates as an observer in the EFSA Nano Network (Section 3.6) along with other EU candidate countries Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Montenegro (EFSA, 2012). The Inventory and Control of Chemicals Regulation entered into force in Turkey in 2008, which represents a scale-down version of the REACH Regulation (Bergeson et al. 2010). Moreover, the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning published a Turkish version of CLP Regulation (known as SEA in Turkish) to enter into force as of 1st June 2016 (Intertek).

The Russian legislation on food safety is based on regulatory documents such as the Sanitary Rules and Regulations (“SanPiN”), but also on national standards (known as “GOST”) and technical regulations (Office of Agricultural Affairs of the USDA, 2009). The Russian policy on nanotechnology in the industrial sector has been defined in some national programmes (e.g. Nanotechnology Industry Development Program) and a Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies was established in 2007.15 As reported by FAO/WHO (FAO/WHO, 2013), 17 documents which deal with the risk assessment of NMs in the food sector were released within such federal programs. Safe reference levels on nanoparticles impact on the human body were developed and implemented in the sanitary regulation for the nanoforms of silver and titanium dioxide and, single wall carbon nanotubes (FAO/WHO, 2013).

Other countries included in this overview are Brazil, India, Japan, China, Malaysia, Iran, Thailand, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, US, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland, and the countries of the European Union.

*EurekAlert link added Sept. 14, 2015.

3D imaging biological cells with picosecond ultrasonics (acoustic imaging)

An April 22, 2015 news item on Nanowerk describes an acoustic imaging technique that’s been newly applied to biological cells,

Much like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is able to scan the interior of the human body, the emerging technique of “picosecond ultrasonics,” a type of acoustic imaging, can be used to make virtual slices of biological tissues without destroying them.

Now a team of researchers in Japan and Thailand has shown that picosecond ultrasonics can achieve micron resolution of single cells, imaging their interiors in slices separated by 150 nanometers — in stark contrast to the typical 0.5-millimeter spatial resolution of a standard medical MRI scan. This work is a proof-of-principle that may open the door to new ways of studying the physical properties of living cells by imaging them in vivo.

An April 20, 2015 American Institute of Physics news release, which originated the news item, provides a description of picosecond ultrasonics and more details about the research,

Picosecond ultrasonics has been used for decades as a method to explore the mechanical and thermal properties of materials like metals and semiconductors at submicron scales, and in recent years it has been applied to biological systems as well. The technique is suited for biology because it’s sensitive to sound velocity, density, acoustic impedance and the bulk modulus of cells.

This week, in a story appearing on the cover of the journal Applied Physics Letters, from AIP Publishing, researchers from Walailak University in Thailand and Hokkaido University in Japan describe the first known demonstration of 3-D cell imaging using picosecond ultrasonics.

Their work centers on imaging two types of mammalian biological tissue — a bovine aortic endothelial cell, a type of cell that lines a cow’s main artery blood vessel, and a mouse “adipose” fat cell. Endothelial cells were chosen because they play a key role in the physiology of blood cells and are useful in the study of biomechanics. Fat cells, on the other hand, were studied to provide an interesting comparison with varying cell geometries and contents.

How the Work was Done

The team accomplished the imaging by first placing a cell in solution on a titanium-coated sapphire substrate and then scanning a point source of high-frequency sound generated by using a beam of focused ultrashort laser pulses over the titanium film. This was followed by focusing another beam of laser pulses on the same point to pick up tiny changes in optical reflectance caused by the sound traveling through the cell tissue.

“By scanning both beams together, we’re able to build up an acoustic image of the cell that represents one slice of it,” explained co-author Professor Oliver B. Wright, who teaches in the Division of Applied Physics, Faculty of Engineering at Hokkaido University. “We can view a selected slice of the cell at a given depth by changing the timing between the two beams of laser pulses.”

The team’s work is particularly noteworthy because “in spite of much work imaging cells with more conventional acoustic microscopes, the time required for 3-D imaging probably remains too long to be practical,” Wright said. “Building up a 3-D acoustic image, in principle, allows you to see the 3-D relative positions of cell organelles without killing the cell. In our experiments in vitro, while we haven’t yet resolved the cell contents — possibly because cell nuclei weren’t contained within the slices we viewed — it should be possible in the future with various improvements to the technique.”

: Fluorescence micrographs of fat and endothelial cells superimposed on differential-interference and phase-contrast images, respectively.

Fluorescence micrographs of fat and endothelial cells superimposed on differential-interference and phase-contrast images, respectively. The nuclei are stained blue in the micrographs. The image on the right is a picosecond-ultrasonic image of a single endothelial cell with approximately 1-micron lateral and 150-nanometer depth resolutions. Deep blue corresponds to the lowest ultrasonic amplitude.
CREDIT: O. Wright/Hokkaido University

So far, the team has used infrared light to generate sound waves within the cell, “limiting the lateral spatial resolution to about one micron,” Wright explains. “By using an ultraviolet-pulsed laser, we could improve the lateral resolution by about a factor of three — and greatly improve the image quality. And, switching to a diamond substrate instead of sapphire would allow better heat conduction away from the probed area, which, in turn, would enable us to increase the laser power and image quality.”

So lowering the laser power or using substrates with higher thermal conductivity may soon open the door to in vivo imaging, which would be invaluable for investigating the mechanical properties of cell organelles within both vegetal and animal cells.

What’s next for the team? “The method we use to image the cells now actually involves a combination of optical and elastic parameters of the cell, which can’t be easily distinguished,” Wright said. “But we’ve thought of a way to separate them, which will allow us to measure the cell mechanical properties more accurately. So we’ll try this method in the near future, and we’d also like to try our method on single-celled organisms or even bacteria.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Three-dimensional imaging of biological cells with picosecond ultrasonics by Sorasak Danworaphong, Motonobu Tomoda, Yuki Matsumoto, Osamu Matsuda, Toshiro Ohashi, Hiromu Watanabe, Masafumi Nagayama, Kazutoshi Gohara, Paul H. Otsuka, and Oliver B. Wright. Appl. Phys. Lett. 106, 163701 (2015); http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4918275

This paper is open access.

This research reminded me of a data sonification project that I featured in a Feb. 7, 2014 post which includes an embedded sound file of symphonic music based on data from NASA’s (US National Aeronautics and Space Administration) Voyager spacecraft.

NANOTEC’s creative lifestyle and culture theme for Nanotech 2014 exhibition and conference in Tokyo

A Nov. 22, 2013 news item on Nanowerk announces plans for Thailand’s participation at one of the world’s largest nanotechnology events, the 13th International Nanotechnology Exhibition and Conference; Nanotech 2014 in Tokyo, Japan,

Preparations are on the way at NANOTEC [Thailand’s agency for nanotechnology development] as it begins the tasks of preparing for nanotech 2014 at Tokyo Big Sight, Tokyo, Japan which is scheduled for January 29 to 31. The Thailand team is coming to the show with elevated confidence as the team received a Special Award for its leading role in developing unique and innovative technology and products that have societal and economic impacts in the 2013 event.

The undated NANOTEC notice,, which originated the news item, goes to describe this year’s theme,

The Thailand team led by Prof. Dr. Pairash Thajchayapong, Specialist and Senior Advisor to NSTDA and Chairman of NANOTEC Executive Board, and Prof. Sirirurg Songsivilai, Executive Director will showcase research initiatives under the theme “Nanotechnology in Thailand: Creative Lifestyle and Culture”.

The Thailand pavillion at nanotech 2014.“Visitors to the Thailand Pavilion will be able to easily follow the exhibition and understand the research findings as the display will be group in 3 zones: Innovation, Living, and Culture” said Prof. Sirirurg. “We want to show that by incorporating nanotechnology to practical and down-to-earth productions, SMEs can up their “value chain” production process to increase competitiveness in global market”.The Thailand team is looking to welcoming visitors to their show at nanotech 2014 in Japan.

Here’s what I believe to be a model of the proposed pavilion,

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[downloaded from http://www.nanotec.or.th/en/?p=5659]

Thailand’s theme for Nanotech 2012 was natural disaster relief as per my Dec. 6, 2011 posting, I last wrote about NANOTEC in an August 8, 2013 posting about its 10th anniversary.

ETa Dec. 6, 2013: NANOTEC has announced another event during nanotech 2014 in Tokyo, Japan as per this Dec. 5, 2013 news item on Nanotechnology Now,

Thailand is willing to tell it all at the Seed and Need Seminar on January 31 during nanotech 2014 at Tokyo Big Sight, Tokyo, Japan. The title of the presentation is “Nanotechnology Development in Thailand”.

Meanwhile, Thailand is experiencing a temporary cessation of the violent protests which have overtaken the country since Nov. 24, 2013 according to a Dec. 5, 2013 item on BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) News online,

Thailand is marking the 86th birthday of the revered king amid a truce after days of violent protests in Bangkok.

Speaking at his palace in the coastal resort of Hua Hin, the king said that Thailand had been peaceful because of the unity of the people.

There were violent clashes earlier in the week between police and protesters.

The demonstrators, who are demanding that the current government resign, began protesting on 24 November.

They agreed to stop their attacks on government buildings for the birthday celebrations, but have said they will be back right after them.

Thailand’s NANOTEC celebrates10th anniversary

Congratulations to Thailand’s NANOTEC (National Nanotechnology Center) on reaching its 10th anniversary. According to an Aug. 7, 2013 news item on Nanowerk, the center was founded on Aug. 13, 2003,

Ten years have gone by quickly proving the saying that “time and tide wait for no man”. It was on August 13, 2003 that the Thai government approved the setup of the National Nanotechnology Center (NANOTEC) under National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA),

Sirirurg Songsivilai, M.D.,Ph.D,NANOTEC Executive Director, provides an overview of the last 10 years and some hints about future prospects in his About Us message,

NANOTEC has come a long way since then and several accomplishments have come to bear. In the area of human resource, NANOTEC have successfully up its research pool to over 100 researchers and assistant researchers, carrying out research at our headquarters at Thailand Science Park. This is equivalent to 70% of the total NANOTEC staff. With regards to publication, NANOTEC researchers have published a total of 357 international publications. This is considered a significant number given our researcher pool.

NANOTEC research highlights have been forth coming in the last few years. This is normal as research projects takes time to complete. Some of the highlight projects include the SOS mobile water purification unit, the nano cosmeceutical QAcne pad made from encapsulation of mangosten extract, the Nano Bednet which contain nano scale long-lasting formulation of mosquito-insecticide, nano functional fabrics, controlled release fertilizer, and smart soil made from water hyacinth.

The last ten years have also seen an increase in the number of collaborative partnerships both local and international. The establishment of the Center of Excellence in Nanotechnology (COEs) with 8 leading Thai universities continues to help us leap frog our research initiatives. These partnerships have greatly helped to broaden our look on research from global aspects. NANOTEC also established strategic alliance with international nanotechnology centers and is playing leading role as one of the world-leading institutes.

So, what is in store for NANOTEC in the coming 10 years? We will continue to concentrate our focus on R&D programs that will have impacts. In order to do this, we will initiate the Flagship program approach in which all researchers are encouraged to participate. ….

You can find out more about NANOTEC and its current doings on its homepage.

Science, politics, and logic

I started the week with a posting where I highlighted a presentation about algae, biofuels, policy making, and politics (my Apr. 8, 2013 posting: Algae factories could produce nanocellulose for biofuels and more) and I’m going to end this week with another politics/policy posting, this time focusing on artemisinin and malaria.

Malaria is a serious, serious problem in many parts of the world as Brendan Borrell notes in his Apr. 4, 2013 article, The WHO vs. the Tea Doctor, about an herbal tea that contains artemisinin, for Slate.com,

Of all the illnesses that have afflicted humanity over millennia, few have left their mark quite like malaria, which infects 200 million people each year and kills at least 655,000, most of whom are children. [emphasis mine] Falciparum malaria—the most common type in sub-Saharan Africa—starts as a debilitating fever, which can progress in severe cases to convulsions, brain damage, and death. In this part of the world, it’s almost impossible to stay completely free of the parasites for long. Adults often display a low level of immunity, which makes each subsequent infection painful and unpleasant but usually not fatal.

As I’m about to contrast the information in Borrell’s article with the information in an Apr. 11, 2013 news release from the University of California Berkeley on EurekAlert, about the development of a synthetic artemisinin, I’m going to highlight their ‘agreement’ as the seriousness of the malaria problem,

… a lifesaver for the hundreds of millions of people in developing countries who each year contract malaria and more than 650,000, most of them children, who die of the disease. [emphasis mine]

Borrell sets the discussion for his take on the artemisinin situation with a little history (Note: Links have been removed),

The story of artemisinin demonstrates that even the best malaria drugs are worthless if they are not getting to the people who need them. In the late 1990s, African malaria parasites had become resistant to standard treatments such as chloroquine, and malaria deaths in Uganda doubled in a decade. By the early 2000s, there was a proven alternative: artemisinin combination therapies [ACTs]. Nevertheless, the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria repeatedly rejected countries’ requests for money for ACTs, funding failing treatments over ACTs at a rate of 10-to-1. In 2004, a group of fed-up scientists writing in the Lancet called these decisions “medical malpractice.” Today, although ACTs are heavily subsidized by the international aid community, local clinics frequently run out of stock, and Africans often end up with substandard, ineffective, and sometimes counterfeit medications.

Borrell goes on to recount the story of a  Chinese plant, sweet wormwood ((Artemisia annua), which is the source for both a class of anti-malarial drugs and a tea (Note: A link has been removed),

It [sweet wormwood] can also be grown in wetter parts of Africa, and a year’s supply costs no more than a few dollars. Although the tea itself has traditionally been used in treatment, not prevention, in China, a randomized controlled trial on this farm showed that workers who drank it regularly reduced their risk of suffering from multiple episodes of malaria by one-third. For a group of people who were once waylaid by this mosquito-borne disease four or more times per year, the tea is a godsend.

According to the article, WHO (World Health Organization) and most malaria researchers are opposed to the tea’s use. Reasons given include the claim that herbal concoctions are more dangerous and less effective than pharmaceuticals and that use of the tea could lead to the malaria parasite developing resistance to the drugs.

There are two issues I have with the first claim about herbal concoctions. Having perused the Compendium of Pharmaceuticals (CPS), I can tell you the last I looked it was huge and listed thousands and thousands of drugs and their side effects (did you know that death is considered a side effect?). Fabrication in a laboratory does not equal safety any more that chopping something off a plant and brewing it as a tea equals safety. Personally, I don’t understand why they aren’t testing the tea, which is derived from sweet wormwood and successfully passed one randomized clinical trial, to see if the result can be repeated and also to test it against the drugs in human clinical trials.

As for the second claim that use of the tea could lead to the malaria parasite developing resistance to the drugs, isn’t that what happened to anti-malarial drugs in the late 1990s? Using chloroquine led to resistance against chloroquine. Following this claim to its logical end, we should never use any drug or herbal concoction as either might lead to resistance.

As for the tea’s successful clinical trial, the researcher experienced difficulty getting his study published (from the article; Note: A link has been removed),

While the workers are effusive about the tea, malaria experts have taken less kindly to it. When Ogwang [Patrick Ogwang of the Ugandan Ministry of Health] tried to publish the results in Malaria Journal, a reviewer largely praised the quality of the science but nixed publication out of concern that use of the tea could render ACTs ineffective. It’s a remarkably patronizing recommendation: that a scientific journal should keep the latest evidence out of the hands of Africans, lest they begin treating themselves. Marcel Hommel, editor in chief of the journal, defends the decision, saying, “It is the responsibility of an editor to avoid publishing papers that promote interventions which could potentially put patients at risk.” Ogwang eventually published his results in a less prestigious journal.

Borrell expresses reservations about herbal medicines/concoctions and he supports having the drugs for special cases but he also notes a study which suggests that a tea made from the plant might be more effective for adults and for less severe cases. From the article (Note: Links have been removed),

In the case of malaria, Anamed and others also argue that it makes sense to preserve stocks of conventional drugs for children and severe cases. One reason ACTs have been so expensive is the cost of isolating artemisinin, but there have long been indications that using a cruder, cheaper whole-plant extract could potentially be more effective and cheaper. In a study conducted in rats last year, University of Massachusetts researchers compared a single dose of pure artemisinin to dried whole leaves, and found that the whole plant was better at killing malaria parasites. And while millions have been spent bioengineering bacteria to crank out pure artemisinin on a budget, you still have to get it to the people who need it.

The resistance that the experts fear has been proved true, according to Borrell’s article, in areas where artemisinin drugs have been distributed and used with abandon.

Coincidentally or not, the University of California Berekeley announced a the development of semi-synthetic artemisinin in the Apr. 11, 2013 news release mentioned earlier,

Twelve years after a breakthrough discovery in his University of California, Berkeley, laboratory, professor of chemical engineering Jay Keasling is seeing his dream come true.

On April 11 [2013], the pharmaceutical company Sanofi will launch the large-scale production of a partially synthetic version of artemisinin, a chemical critical to making today’s front-line antimalaria drug, based on Keasling’s discovery.

The drug is the first triumph of the nascent field of synthetic biology and will be, Keasling hopes, a lifesaver ….

Keasling and colleagues at Amyris, a company he cofounded in 2003 to bring the lab-bench discovery to the marketplace, will publish in the April 25 issue of Nature the sequence of genes they introduced into yeast that allowed Sanofi to make the chemical precursor of artemisinin. The paper will be available online April 10.

“It is incredible,” said Keasling, who also serves as associate director for biosciences at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and as CEO of the Joint Bioenergy Institute in Emeryville, Calif. “The time scale hasn’t been that long, it just seems like a long time. There were many places along the way where it could have failed.”

The yeast strain developed by Amyris based on Keasling’s initial research and now used by Sanofi produces a chemical precursor of artemisinin, a compound that until now has been extracted from the sweet wormwood plant, Artemsia annua. Artemisinin from either sweet wormwood or the engineered yeast is then turned into the active antimalarial drug , and typically mixed with another antimalarial drug in what is called arteminsinin combination therapy, or ACT.

Global demand for artemisinin has increased since 2005, when the World Health Organization identified ACTs as the most effective malaria treatment available. Sanofi said that it is committed to producing semisynthetic artemisinin using a no-profit, no-loss production model, which will help to maintain a low price for developing countries. Though the price of ACTs will vary from product to product, the new source for its key ingredient, in addition to the plant-derived supply, should lead to a stable cost and steady supply, Keasling said.

Unfortunately, no details about Sanofi’s no-profit, no-loss production model are offered. Perhaps a reader could ease my ignorance? I am interpreting this model to mean that while Sanofi won’t make money from the project, it does expect to recoup its costs (no-loss). (I most recently mentioned Sanofi, a French multinational, in an Apr. 9, 2013 posting about the winners of its 2013 competition for Canadian students.)

The backers of the research do provide some reasoning for this synthetic biology artemisinin project (from the news release),

“The production of semisynthetic artemisinin will help secure part of the world’s supply and maintain the cost of this raw material at acceptable levels for public health authorities around the world and ultimately benefit patients,” said Dr. Robert Sebbag, vice-president of Access to Medicines at Sanofi. “This is a pivotal milestone in the fight against malaria.” [emphasis mine]

I wonder what constitutes an ‘acceptable’ level of costs to public health authorities and, for that matter, to Sanofi. After all, I was under the impression after reading Borrell’s article that all one needed to do was to cultivate the plant and harvest it for materials to make tea.  There was no mention of difficulties cultivating the plant in countries outside of China where it originated nor was there any mention that it was expensive to cultivate.

There are some fairly big names, in addition to Sanofi, involved in this synthetic biology project,

The success is due in large part to two grants totaling $53.3 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to OneWorld Health, the drug development program for PATH, an international nonprofit organization aiming to transform global health through innovation. [emphasis mine] OneWorld Health shepherded the drug’s development out of Keasling’s UC Berkeley lab to Amyris for scale-up and then to pharmaceutical firm Sanofi, based in France, for production.

I am pointing out some interesting relationships with the intention of providing a view of a complex situation with many well-intentioned players, where lines of opposition have been drawn and the people most at risk seemingly forgotten. If the tea hasn’t caused resistance in over 1,500 years of use in China while the drugs have already done so on the Thai-Cambodian border as per Borrell’s article, why isn’t it being accepted and used? While some might point at corporate profit requirements (and I’m not discounting that motive regardless of what Sanofi’s company executives say), there are also issues of institutionalized opposition to any developments made outside of the medical establishment, and the fetishization of the laboratory environment where drugs are made pure in a pure environment while herbs come from the ‘dirty’ earth.

Thailand’s NANOTEC develops nanotechnology-enabled solutions for addressing natural disasters

Thailand  has invested heavily in nanotechnology research and, as noted in my Dec. 6, 2011 posting, the country’s National Nanotechnology Center (NANOTEC) has made disaster mitigation solutions a major focus. An undated (June 2012?) news release at the NANOTEC website describes a new water purification system (SOS mobile water purification system) that’s been developed,

Researchers at Thailand’s National Nanotechnology Center (NANOTEC) have build the first locally made prototype solar powered water purification unit “SOS water” which combined the use of antimicrobial nanocoating to ceramic filters. Compared to conventional ceramic filter, an antimicrobial nanocoating ceramic filter will increase an extra security by killing or incapacitating bacteria left in the water and preventing the growth of mold and algae in the body of the filter. The project was implemented as a result of the need to provide drinking water to communities affected by the 2011 mega flooding in Thailand.

The researchers adapted the antimicrobial nanocoating know-how for water filtration and assembled into in the production of mobile solar-operating system (SOS) water purification. The raw water goes through 6 filtration steps one of which is the antimicrobial nanocoating ceramic filtration unit. The quality of drinking water meets the 2010 guide standard of drinking water by Department of Health, Ministry of Public Health, Thailand. The SOS water system is capable of producing 200 liters of drinking water per hour and easily integrated into a pick-up, light truck, a trailer or a flat hull boat. The researchers have collaborated with the Thai Red Cross Society to do field testing of a prototype SOS water the result of which was outstanding. NANOTEC has donated the prototype SOS water to HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, Executive Vice President of the Thai Red Cross Society on June 28, 2012 for community relief effort. Also attending the royal ceremony was Dr. Plodprasob Suraswadi, Minister of Science and Technology, Prof. Dr. Pairash Thajchayapong, Chairman of NANOTEC Executive Board, and Dr. Thaweesak Koanantakool, President of National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA).

“The 2011 flood in Thailand was an eye opener for both the public and the government sector and we are glad to be in a position to utilize our research capabilities to help minimize the suffering of rural communities during the recent flooding” said Prof. Sirirurg Songsivilai, Executive Director of NANOTEC. “It is our hope that the SOS water will become a must-have item for national relief effort and rural community use”.

Dr. Chamorn Chawengkijwanich, researcher at NANOTEC and head of SOS water project informed that silver atoms are chemically bonded to the ceramic’s filter surface. The filtering function is long lasting and there no traces of silver particles are detected in the drinking water. SOS water is a stand alone unit which can be setup and operated using solar energy within 10-15 minutes.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has produced a 6.5 min. video highlighting the SOS water purification system and other disaster relief innovations such as a replacement for traditional sand bags (nSacks) and a new type of mosquito netting to protect against malaria (if your country has suffered massive floods as they did in Thailand in 2011, the standing water provides a new breeding ground for mosquitos and an increased likelihood of malaria).