CSIRO scientists have found a way to harness the potential of designer crystals in a move that could revolutionise healthcare by accelerating the development of vaccines and tiny devices that give real-time information about a patient’s condition.
Designer crystals – also known as Metallic Organic Frameworks (MOFs) – are the most porous materials on the planet.
These crystals – which have been used in pharmaceutics, electronics and horticulture since their discovery in 1999 – have so many holes inside that a single teaspoon of the powdery material has the same surface area as a football field.
Working alongside scientists from Japan, Austria, Monash University and The University of Adelaide, the CSIRO researchers were able to remove the main roadblock to realising the full potential of MOFs, which is their erratic structure.
“We’ve found a way to control the structure of MOFs and align them in one direction, creating a MOF film. 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,” said CSIRO scientist Dr Aaron Thornton, co-author of the paper published on Tuesday in Nature Materials.
“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 possibilities are endless.”
CSIRO scientists have been working with MOFs for a while now. They have used them to develop a molecular shell to protect and deliver drugs and vaccines, a ‘solar sponge‘ that can capture and release carbon dioxide emissions and plastic material that gets better with age.