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Hanekom: World Nano Economic congress (23/04/2007)

23rd April 2007


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Date: 23/04/2007

Source: Department of Science and Technology


Title: Hanekom: World Nano Economic congress



Opening speech of the World Nano-Economic congress by the Deputy Minister of Department of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) International Convention Centre, Pretoria

Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen

It is a great honour and a pleasure for me to open this seventh World Nano-Economic Congress 2007, held in South Africa for the first time.

It is safe to say that this congress will help set the global stage for Nanotechnology to realise its breathtaking potential to make the world a better place. We have witnessed impressive progress globally in the development and application of this technology over a number of years. We are ready to begin reaping the rewards of our investments. During the next two days you will explore how the potential of things only dreamed of a few decades ago can now become a living reality.

It was none other than Albert Einstein who said: "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

Discovery is driven by dreams and imagination. Our species acquires knowledge because we are hungry for it, we want to know how things work, and why things are the way they are. Our accumulated knowledge has enabled us to manufacture things that not so long ago existed only in the minds of the highly imaginative, like flying machines, televisions, and even little battery operated telephones that we carry around in our pockets (that annoy us when they ring during conferences).

The new emerging power of nanotechnology, however, has the potential to produce results that may not have featured in even our wildest dreams a few years ago. To quote the author, Robert J Sawyer:

"The ability to build something from the most fundamental constituents is a massive breakthrough. It is going to change everything."

The enticing promise of dramatically enhanced materials, unique drug delivery systems and a potential revolution in manufacturing processes persuaded a number of governments and companies to put substantial resources into nanotechnology research and development.

A recent report by Lux Research, titled "Profiting from International Nanotechnology," estimates that 12,4 billion dollars was invested in Nanotech research and development worldwide in 2006, and over 50 billion dollars worth of nano-enabled products were sold in the same year

This trend was highlighted last week by President Putin when he unveiled a 1 billion dollars initiative to develop nanotechnology and turn the Kurchatov Nuclear Institute into the country's research hub for nanoscience. These were his words: "This is a direction where the state will not begrudge any funds." He went on to say that the way to wean the economy of oil and gas was to "think small."

The important question is whether we have positioned ourselves well to take advantage of this rapidly growing market, and whether we are able to harness the massive potential of this technology to address some of our most pressing developmental challenges. I have no doubt that you will use the next two days fruitfully to identify both the wealth of opportunity that exists, and the work that has to be done for us for us to position ourselves competitively.

In line with this global trend, we have developed our own Nanotechnology Strategy. This strategy supports our national development goals and complements other strategies, such as the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Strategy, and the Biotechnology Strategy. These strategies are meant to guide us in our work and assist us in our goals of achieving a competitive, growing economy, and improving the quality of life of all our citizens.

While this may seem small compared with most developed countries, the R450 million that has been allocated by our Treasury to implement the nanotechnology strategy over the next three years reflects a strong recognition of the importance we attach to this emerging technology. We have embarked on a series of programmes aimed at enabling meaningful research and development in this field. Two national nanotechnology centres will be established in the course of this year, and they will serve as the hub of nanotechnology activities in our country.

Human capital development also forms a very strong and integral component of our implementation plan. The development of a highly trained human resource base with research and development expertise will encourage the private sector to develop nano-based products and services. Our human capital development programmes include the use of the Department of Science and Technology's Research Chairs Initiative, post-graduate programmes as well as bursaries for students. The CSIR has taken the lead in this challenge: they are currently training 19 Nanotechnology post-graduates students (three masters, three post doctrines and 13 Doctors of Philosophy (PhD)).

With a growing cohort of students entering this exciting science of the future, I am confident that we will be able to position ourselves to fully exploit the vast potential of this new wave of technology.

As government, we are doing everything possible to pave the way for the realisation of the full value of nanotechnology. However, the efforts of government alone cannot be sufficient; we will never become a serious global player without far greater investment by industry. Our industries can ill afford to stand idle in the face of such massive increases in investments in this technology by their counterparts in other parts of the globe.

It is for this reason that we welcome the platform offered by the World Nano-Economic Congress to identify commercial and developmental opportunities of Nanotechnology. Certainly with the quality of speakers, the series of engaging deliberations and activities lined up for this event, this congress promises to leave an indelible mark in the practice of nanoscience and nanotechnology worldwide.

As we progress with the development of this technology, one of the questions that should be uppermost in our minds is its envisaged socio-economic impact, particularly of developing countries. How, for instance, will nanotechnology help advance the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals? How will it assist us in halving the number of people who suffer from severe hunger by 2015? Is nanotechnology able to assist us in our quest to halve the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation? And can this technology help us achieve environmental sustainability and help us tackle what is probably the greatest single challenge confronting the world today, namely climate change?

We owe it to the millions of poor people worldwide to ensure that every step we take gets us closer to a world without poverty and deprivation, and indeed, nanotechnology does have the potential to contribute towards our ability to achieve these goals in an unprecedented way. It is up to us to be bold and imaginative enough to seize this opportunity.

One of the greatest poverty related challenges in our country is in the area of health, and infectious diseases in particular. Annually approximately 250 000 new cases of Tuberculosis (TB) are diagnosed in South Africa, an incidence that has doubled in the last seven years. This high prevalence is not exclusive to our country; it is a major cause of death in the entire subcontinent, mainly due to co-infection of HIV and AIDS, which accounts for 85% of tuberculosis cases. In nanotechnology we may well have the answer to this debilitating disease.

Although effective treatment is currently available, patients have to take up to four anti-TB drugs several times per week for up to six months. As might be expected, patient compliance is an ongoing challenge. In addition, the current anti-TB drugs exhibit dose-dependent toxic side effects, and the poor solubility of the drugs reduce their bioavailability, and they are easily degraded prior to reaching the target site. The consequence is that treatment failure is high. Furthermore, the emergence of drug resistance presents our health research community with a formidable challenge: there is currently no treatment for the drug resistant extreme drug resistant (XDR) TB.

To address these problems of bioavailability and dose frequency, the CSIR, together with South African and international collaborators, has developed unique biodegradable and biocompatible polymeric nano-carrier systems (50 to 200 nm in size). They have illustrated in vitro, that the encapsulated drug can be protected from degradation, that the drugs when released in a slow steady manner, enable the uptake and their subsequent release into cells. This increases the bioavailability of the drugs at their site of action and would thus reduce the associated side effects.

This work is currently being tested in animal models. Due to the slow degrading and the slow release mechanisms of the carrier systems, drug release can be prolonged through nano-based drug delivery systems, allowing for the administration of drugs once in seven days, instead of the current daily administration of drugs.

The same technology can be applied for malaria, HIV and AIDS and other diseases where patient non-compliance is high. This is but one example of not only the commercial potential nanotechnology holds, but the massive impact it could have on the quality of life of people. The applications are almost unlimited. To quote David Talbot:

"On a planet that's on the cusp of catastrophic climate change, nano-engineered materials have the potential to make a real difference. Imagine solar power cells that are far cheaper and more efficient; batteries that allow for more efficient electric cars; components that make cleaner coal-fired power plants. These and other applications are hardly trivial, they will save energy, reduce pollution, and maybe go a little way to making sure Times Square will not be under water for the next millennium celebration."

Nanotechnology is powerful, and it is up to us to ensure that its power is harnessed towards useful ends. As suggested by the United Nations Task Force on Science, Technology and Innovation in its 2005 report: "Innovation: applying knowledge for development," careful research into the potential hazards of nanotechnology has to be undertaken and appropriate regulatory systems have to be designed for the realisation of the full benefits of this technology.

It is equally important to ensure that as we develop this technology we remain conscious of the need to engage the public. We have to create a climate conducive for public discourse to ensure acceptance of the technology by society at large. As with all our scientific endeavours, we must keep our public abreast of the trends and developments, the potential benefits as well as the myriad of opportunities presented by nanotechnology.

Allow me to conclude, by expressing our appreciation to all of you for your dedication and efforts to chart the way forward in Nanoscience by holding this 2007 Congress in our country. My sincere gratitude must also go to the CSIR and Cientifica, for having organised this event. May you find the next two days both riveting and rewarding.

It is my great pleasure to declare the World Nano Economic Congress 2007 officially opened.

I thank you all.

Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
23 April 2007



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