At the just ended 1st International Workshop in Nanotechnology-Nanomedicine held in Johannesburg, South Africa, the Dean of the School of Informatics and Engineering (SIE), Dr. Stanley Moffatt, who is also the Coordinator for USEACANI (US-Europe-Asia-Caribbean Nanotechnology Initiative) in Africa, delivered a strongly-worded yet insightful and intellectually stimulating paper entitled “From Nanoengineering to Nanomedicine – A Scientific Innovation Towards Improved Medical Care”.This thought-provoking address sent a wake-up call to the invited delegates, particularly in Africa, about the need o bridge the nano-divide as an innovative science to alleviate the miserable medical plight of the needy in Africa.
Dr. Moffatt, who has copious publications and enormous expertise in this technically innovative discipline, started his presentation by defining nanotechnology as the science of materials at the molecular or subatomic level, involving manipulation of particles smaller than 100 nanometres. A technology that involves developing materials or devices within that size - invisible to the human eye and often many hundred times thinner than the width of human hair. The Dean stated that when reduced to the nanoscale, the physics and chemistry of the materials are radically different; they have different strengths, conductivity and reactivity, and exploiting this could revolutionize medicine.
He went on to define Nanomedicine as involving various programs for application of newly emerging nanotechnologies for drug delivery, enhancement in medical imaging and medical treatment, based on molecular processes at the cellular level.
Dr. Moffatt stated that Nanotechnology holds enormous potential for healthcare, from delivering drugs more effectively, diagnosing diseases more rapidly and sensitively, and delivering vaccines via aerosols, patches and cell targeting. This would ensure targeted-drug delivery to specific areas in the body — with drugs formulated to permeate cell membranes better, reducing the required dose. Almost all areas of nanotechnology are directly relevant to medicine because of the importance of nanoscale phenomena to cellular signaling, enzyme action and the cell cycle.
Though some critics argue that when millions of people in countries like India or those in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Ghana, are dying because of a lack of access to even basic healthcare, investing in cutting-edge technologies is a ludicrous waste of money, Dr. Moffatt argued that, while poor countries have an ongoing responsibility to strengthen healthcare systems and provide wider access to medicine, investments in nanomedicine could, in the long run, save lives by making diagnosis and treatment far more effective. It is not surprising that many emerging economies such as Brazil, China, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore and South Africa, have ambitious research and development (R&D) plans for nanomedicine.
Dr. Moffatt alluded that we Africans have the skill and power to revolutionize medical research through nanoengineering and reminded the participants that the third Engineering revolution of the last 200 years is sadly passing us by, still making us “spectators” as the world turns, and that we must not remain spectators forever. He strongly proposed that African Scientists must hasten to accelerate their innovative contributions in nanomedicine to alleviate poverty-related diseases in Africa.
The Dean said Ghana, and Africa for that matter, is endowed with scientists possessing the intellectual ability and the relevant track record of achievement to make us contributors to knowledge and holders of patents that will earn us respect as elevating the human condition , and not just as “consumers of the products of the ingenuity of others”. To do this, Dr. Moffatt said the government and private sectors must put pure and applied science as a national priority. The truly endowed scientists must be encouraged through “meritocracy” and not the usual human networking and nepotism which has bedeviled us for so long.
Dr. Moffatt ended on a sad note by saying that most of our mission-less and vision-less elected political leaders are only interested in lining their own pockets, and living a life of comfort with flagrant disregard for the future of the continent, the poverty-stricken, and the implications of the neglect to promote science and technology effort locally, and that, we shall continue to be hewers of wood and drawers of water for developed nations , if we do not give science, technology and innovative nanomedicine a pride of place in national budgets.The international workshop started on the 25th and ended on the 31st of March 2011.