Designer crystals fast-track vaccine development, help doctors

CANBERRA, Dec. 6 (Xinhua) -- A breakthrough in chemistry, which has led Australian scientists to harness the potential of designer crystals, could fast-track the development of key vaccines and give doctors real-time updates on patients' conditions.

Scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) collaborated with researchers from Japan, Austria, Monash University and The University of Adelaide to use the crystals, known as Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs) in a number of surprising new applications.

MOFs are the most porous materials on the planet, and have so many holes that a single teaspoon of the powdery material has the same surface area as a "football field."

The designer crystals have previously been applied in a number of fields including in pharmaceutics, electronics and horticulture, but CSIRO scientist Dr. Aaron Thornton said on Tuesday that now the scientists had "tamed" the MOFs' "erratic structure," the possibilities for future practical uses were "endless."

"We've found a way to control the structure of MOFs and align them in one direction, creating a MOF film," Thornton said in a statement.

"Having the MOFs in alignment means they conduct a current far better, opening up more electrical uses such as implantable medical devices that give real-time information about someone's health.

"It also gives researchers more control in the development of vaccines, which will fast-track the process.

"MOFs could also be structured in such a way that they'd only react with certain compounds or elements - for example, miners could wear clothes impregnated with a layer of MOFs that tell them when dangerous gases are building up."

The research was published by the CSIRO in the Nature Materials magazine on Tuesday.


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