Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) scientists have created a novel method that could potentially produce pure, no side-effect, higher quality medicinal drugs with a faster drug discovery process. The method involves detecting target molecules in pesticides and pharmaceuticals in just five minutes through a specific nanomaterial layer. 

In addition to pharmaceutical industries, the invention can be applied in monitoring the environment. The team led by led by Associate Professor Dr. Jeffery Huang Zhifeng and Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Lin Yang from the Department of Physics, and Associate Professor Dr. Ken Leung Cham-fai and Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Kwan Chak-shing from the Department of Chemistry at HKBU published their findings in the journal Advanced Functional Materials

Organic molecules comprise medicinal drugs and pesticides. The chirality of each molecule has different effects. Chirality means the molecules are mirror images of each other like the right and left hands. An example would be naproxen, an anti-inflammatory drug whose one chiral image treats arthritis pain while ther other can lead to poisoning of the liver. 

With the high cost and long period of time in producing pure drugs, it is not beneficial for pharmaceuticals to produce these. Thus, they manufacture drugs that have same amounts of the the chiral molecules or what is known as racemic mixture. This combination can have low cost in production but it also leads to lower efficacy and also some have toxic side effects to the body. 

Dr Jeffery Huang emphasized that it is essential to identify and locate the correct form of a chiral molecule during the drug discovery process. "However, the specific nanomaterial designed and synthesised by the team, which is composed of silver chiral nanoparticles, can amplify the signal of the desired chiral molecules and improve detection sensitivity by more than 10-fold, making the location process faster, more accurate and less expensive,"

Dr. Huang reports that this invention opens the possibility of these nanoparticles to be used in the drug production processes. He said, "We have developed a breakthrough nanomaterial which uses a simple, one-step fabrication method to sensitively detect the target drug molecules in just five minutes. The ability of the chiral nanoparticles to amplify the detection sensitivity is practically desired for trace detection."

Dr. Ken Leung said that the nanomaterial fabricated by the team will offer a new method in the detection of chiroptical purity of synthesised compounds that can produce drugs without side effects. He considers this as a breakthrough in the resolution of racemic drugs.