Source: Daily Nation
By:Gatonye Gathura and Gitonga Marete
The next generation of medical “miracles” involving designer spare parts, invisible matter and microscopic robots that enter into a patient, sniff out sick cells, diagnose, treat and report to the doctor are here.
Nanomedicine and stem cell technology – the latter where umbilical cord blood is harvested at birth and stored for future body repairs – are already being sampled in Kenya.
With about Sh315,000, a Kenyan can have this umbilical blood harvested and stored for more than 25 years with the Future Health Biobank, a human tissue bank based in the UK.
The cord blood contains stem cells, identified as the foundation for every organ, tissue and cell. Stem cells may be able to repair or replace damaged tissue, thereby reversing diseases and injuries such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular and blood diseases.
According to Nilesh Vaghadia, managing director of the Mombasa based Plasma Diagnostics who are partnering with the UK tissue bank, this is like insurance for the future of the child and family.
“Collecting and preserving a sample of cord blood is a one-off opportunity to capture these cells so that they can be held as a biological insurance. If the individual contracts a serious illness or medical condition later in life, the cells can be used to save their lives,” says Vaghadia.
But it is the entry of nanomedicine in Kenya that could change the medical landscape. Nano, meaning dwarf, as a medical technology is the manipulation of matter at the smallest possible levels measured in nanometers.
One nanometer is 50,000th of a hair width or one billionth of a meter. In comparison, a human blood cell is about 8,000 nanometers and the HIV virus is about 130.These nanoparticles have the capacity to enter right into a cell either cancerous or infected by germs, do the necessary repair and get out.
Last month, Kenyan research institutions led by Strathmore University started what could be the most interesting nano drug development initiative in East and Central Africa.
Led by Dr Barnards Ogutu, a researcher at Strathmore University, the effort in collaboration with Kenyan Medical Research Institute and the African Centre for Clinical Trials could see Kenya start reengineering current malaria and HIV drugs to make them more effective and revolutionary.
“We now know how to deliver drugs that are less toxic, more effective and which last in the body for a longer time meaning one may be required to take medication less regularly,” say Dr Ogutu.
The project which has already acquired a Sh42 million funding will be based at the university’s new Centre of Research Excellence in Pharmacology and Therapeutics (CREATES).
Since it is required that a country which develops a drug must start human clinical trials on its own population, the group has identified a six bed unit at the Kenya Medical Research Institute for the purpose.
The revolution is already taking place, says Dr Hulda Swai head of South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) who was in Nairobi early this month to initiate a corroborative initiative between her country and Kenya in the development of nanomedicine.
“Some of our biggest health problems in South Africa are tuberculosis and HIV while in Kenya and East Africa malaria could be the bigger headache. We are inviting Kenya to invest resources in the development of nano malaria medicine while South Africa invests in TB and HIV medicines in which case we can exchange expertise and skills,” says Dr Swai.
The South Africans have already reengineered the first line TB drugs and are ready to enter into human trials.
“Currently the medicines are delivered into the body with the hope that enough dose will hit the infected cells hence the rest that goes elsewhere is actually a waste,” explains Dr Swai.
This, researchers say, is a waste in terms of the amount used to treat an individual case and also huge amounts of medication is required increasing the danger of toxicity.
However nano medicines are manipulated in such a way that they are able to target the infected cells only, in effect requiring the injection of only small amounts of drugs in the body.
“This means several things, less toxicity in the body and a little amount of medicine will go a long way into covering a lot more patients,” says Dr Ogutu.
For example, he says, the current stocks being used to treat some 450,000 Kenyans can very easily cover a much bigger population.
The current TB treatment developed by the South Africans will require a weekly dose instead of the current system where a patient takes daily doses. It will also reduce overall treatment from six to two months. The same can be done for HIV, malaria and even cancer treatments.
Cancer with over 22,000 cases being reported annually may be where nanotechnology could be making the biggest difference with both radiation and chemotherapy know for their high toxicity levels.
“Nanotechnology will have the capacity to deliver just the right amount of radiation or medicine only to the infected cell, hence reducing dosage and eventual side effects,” says Mr Joseph Mureithi, the managing director of Precious Waters, possibly the first people to put a nanomedicine in the local market.Nanosil-10 or Nano Silver is registered with the Pharmacy and Poisons Board as a complementary medicine indicated to act against a wide spectrum of fungus, viruses, bacterium and other disease causing organisms.
The product is indicated to contain extremely small (nano) particles of silver metal suspended in purified water.
“The increasing new resistant strains of bacteria against most potent antibiotics has promoted research in the well known activity of silver nano particles in the last decade or so and this may very well be the basis of the next generation of ‘antibiotics’,” says Mr Mureithi.
Adult Kenyans who may have missed the chance to bank their cord blood should not give up. New technologies show that even adults can obtain their own cells from the stem of an extracted tooth.
“The tooth however must be healthy without any signs of decay,” says Mr Vaghadia who hopes that a large number of Kenyans will sacrifice at least one tooth so that they can harvest these cells.