Featured paper: Nanorods to develop new anti-inflammatory drugs.

[Paper: Characterization of the structural, optical, photocatalytic and in vitro and in vivo anti-inflammatory properties of Mn2+ doped Zn2GeO4 nanorods. Suzuki, V. Y.; Amorin, L. H. C; Lima, N. M; Machado, E. G; Carvalho, P. E.; Castro, S. B. R.; Souza Alves, C. C.; Carli, A. P.; Li, Maximo Siu; Longo, Elson; Felipe La Porta. J. Mater. Chem. C, 2019, 7, 8216. DOI: 10.1039/c9tc01189g]

nanobastoesA team of researchers from Brazilian universities found, in cylindrical nanostructures known as nanorods, an anti-inflammatory effect equivalent to that achieved by commercial drugs. Researchers have also demonstrated the effectiveness of these nanorods as catalysts (accelerators) in the degradation of a pollutant. These applications are even more relevant considering that the scientific team was able to produce large quantities of the material through a simple and fast process. The work carried out shows the potential of these nanorods for the development of new medicines and for the treatment of effluents.

The work originated about three years ago when Professor Felipe de Almeida La Porta, who had recently joined the faculty of the Federal Technological University of Paraná (UTFPR), Londrina campus, was implementing a research group on nanotechnology and computational chemistry at this university. “Our laboratory was investigating some classes of emerging materials, with the perspective of aligning theory and practice, thus driving new discoveries and applications,” says La Porta. One of the materials studied by the group was zinc germanate (Zn2GeO4), a versatile semiconductor with well-known applications in sensors, catalysts, batteries and other devices.

Together with undergraduate researcher Victor Yuudi Suzuki, the professor started a project in which he synthesized pure Zn2GeO4 nanorods at the UTFPR laboratory with very small percentages of manganese ions. To produce this series of nanorods, they used “microwave assisted hydrothermal synthesis.” The method consists, in broad lines, of mixing aqueous solutions containing certain compounds, heating the final solution in a microwave oven and allowing the compounds to react for a certain period of time at controlled pressure and temperature. In this study, the manganese ion-doped Zn2GeO4 was prepared, and the reactions were performed at 140 °C for 10 minutes. The resulting material from these reactions was collected at room temperature, then washed and dried, which generate the nanorods.

Professor La Porta and his research group were able to optimize one of the process steps, the crystallization of materials, thus reducing the synthesis time from hours to a few minutes, but maintaining the quality of the material and the possibility to control its shape.

After preparing the samples, they traveled from Londrina (state of Paraná) to São Carlos (São Paulo state) to characterize the materials at the Center for Functional Materials Development (CDMF) at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) and at the Institute of Physics at the University of São Paulo (USP). Together with the local researchers, they were able to analyze the shape, structure and luminescence of the four types of nanorod compositions produced: manganese-free and with 1, 2 and 4% of this element incorporated into the structure of Zn2GeO4.

Finally, knowing that compounds containing zinc, germanium or manganese exhibit considerable effects on living things, the team contacted some collaborators to investigate these properties in the nanorods. Thus, several experiments were performed at the Departments of Chemistry and Pharmacy of the Federal University of Juiz de Fora and at the Federal University of Vales do Jequitinhonha and Mucuri, both in the state of Minas Gerais.

The authors of the paper. From the left: Victor Suzuki, Luís Amorin, Felipe La Porta, Maximo Si Li, Elson Longo, Sandra de Castro, Paloma de Carvalho, Alessandra Carli, Emanuelle Machado, Caio Alvez, Nerilson Lima.
The authors of the paper. From the left: Victor Suzuki, Luís Amorin, Felipe La Porta, Maximo Si Li, Elson Longo, Sandra de Castro, Paloma de Carvalho, Alessandra Carli, Emanuelle Machado, Caio Alvez, Nerilson Lima.

To study the anti-inflammatory action, the team performed in vitro tests (in contact with cells in laboratory containers) and also in vivo tests (using rats with paw edema, within the norms of the Brazilian code for laboratory animal use). Both types of experiments revealed that nanorods with about 4% manganese were the most effective in controlling inflammation. The in vitro tests showed these nanostructures were able to modulate molecules that regulate inflammation without causing cell death (without cytotoxicity). In the in vivo experiments, the nanorods reduced the induced rat paw edema with results similar to that of the application of dexamethasone, a well-known drug of the corticoid group.

“At first, we thought that combining these elements to form a ternary oxide could somehow potentiate these effects. But we had no idea the results would be so significant. Given that the drugs currently available in therapy are proving to be less effective every day, these results may encourage the use of these nanorods, for example in the production of a new pharmaceutical formulation, especially for cases of inflammation,” says Felipe La Porta, who is the corresponding author of the paper that was recently published by the research team in the Journal of Materials Chemistry C (impact factor 6,641).

In addition to proving the potential of the material for this application in the health area, the authors of the paper have experimentally verified the ability of nanorods to degrade a chemical dye widely found in industrial effluents, known as methylene blue. For this application, 2% manganese nanostructures were the most efficient, completely decomposing the dye in 10 minutes. “Due to the manufacture simplicity of this system, coupled with its excellent properties, this material is also promising for cleaning various environmental pollutants, and can be easily recovered at the end of this process,” adds Prof La Porta.

In the center, a cluster of 4% manganese zinc germanate nanorods. Clockwise: photoluminescence measurements of the samples; representation of the structure of manganese-doped zinc germanate; pollutant degradation mechanism and methylene blue degradation measures; anti-inflammatory action of nanorods and other treatments in induced-edema rat paw.
In the center, a cluster of 4% manganese zinc germanate nanorods. Clockwise: photoluminescence measurements of the samples; representation of the structure of manganese-doped zinc germanate; pollutant degradation mechanism and methylene blue degradation measures; anti-inflammatory action of nanorods and other treatments in induced-edema rat paw.

The superior properties that the Brazilian scientific team found in the nanorods with manganese can be related to the structural defects observed in these samples. In fact, the three-dimensional network of atoms that forms zinc germanate is crystalline, that is, organized in regular patterns. The introduction of manganese generates irregularities, and new properties emerge.

The scientific paper that reports this work was selected to be part of the Materials and Nano Research in Brazil collection, prepared by the Royal Society of Chemistry in celebration of the 18th B-MRS Meeting, and can therefore be accessed free of charge until October 15 of this year, here.

The work was carried out with funding from Brazilian research support agencies: the federal CNPq and Capes, and the state Araucaria Foundation, Fapesp and Fapemig.

History of Materials Research: 30 years of LIEC – UFSCar.

The Interdisciplinary Laboratory of Electrochemistry and Ceramics (LIEC) of the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) is completing 30 years of scientific research, development of innovative products and processes, training of scientists and extension activities.

The idea of creating an interdisciplinary laboratory emerged in 1988, from discussions of three research professors, two from UFSCar and the third from UNESP – Araraquara, with education background in chemistry, physics and physical chemistry. These professors were Elson Longo da Silva, Luís Otávio de Sousa Bulhões and José Arana Varela (deceased in 2016). “The idea came about because we had obtained equipment from funding agencies, but there was not enough space in our respective departments to allocate them,” recounted Elson Longo, now professor emeritus of UFSCar, during the commemoration of the anniversary of LIEC, on March 23.

The idea was materialized thanks to a partnership with Companhia Brasileira de Metais e Metalurgia (CBMM) to finance the construction of the building that would house the equipment. The company, Longo said, was interested in the future laboratory developing some products. “Fortunately, we secured their support for the construction of the building at UFSCar,” explained Longo

Soon after, the laboratory began to receive students interested in participating in the research. The first ones, recalls Longo, were Edson Roberto Leite (now professor at UFSCar), Carlos Alberto Paskocimas (currently at UFRN) Ernesto Chaves Pereira (UFSCar) and Maria Aparecida Zaghete (UNESP). “It can be said that over the past 30 years there have been hundreds of students who have completed their studies at LIEC,” said Longo. In addition to students from various UFSCar courses, LIEC has received young people from other institutions in Brazil and abroad for classes, courses and research at all levels of education.

Partnerships with the industrial sector have marked the history of LIEC in the following years. “The various research themes have been developed, and also changing, from theoretical reflections and from contacts with various companies,” declares Longo. “I emphasize that it was not the production of reflexive knowledge of business needs; on the contrary, such needs have given rise to new interpretive models and dialogues with other theories,” he clarifies.

One of the longest-standing industrial partners is Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional (CSN), with which the laboratory continues to work. Initially, LIEC helped the company eliminate the corrosion that the ceramic burner experienced. “The solution to this problem put the team to research and solve problems related to blast furnace, race channel, torpedo car, converter etc.,” Longo recalled.

Another example cited by Longo is the partnership with 3M of Brazil. LIEC collaborated with the company in the implementation of a varistor plant in Ribeirão Preto, some 100 km from São Carlos. “This collaboration allowed us to open another research sub-area, whereby we produced the first tin oxide varistor,” added the professor emeritus.

Parallel to the projects with companies, LIEC carried out, from the beginning, research in structural ceramics based on zirconia oxide stabilized with rare earths and alkaline earth metals. Thus began the collaboration of the laboratory with the theoretical chemist Juan Andrés, professor of the Universitat Jaume I (Spain) – a cooperation that has lasted for 29 years.

As for the extension activities, LIEC also has successful examples, such as the project through which it brought technical knowledge to artistic ceramics artisans from 9 Brazilian states.

In the 21st century, from multidisciplinary laboratory to materials development center

The year 2000 was a turning point in the scientific trajectory of LIEC. The laboratory was approved in the call for FAPESP CEPID projects, and denominated as Multidisciplinary Center for the Development of Ceramic Materials (CMDMC), and with the guarantee of continuous financing for 11 years. Consequently, the area of diffusion of knowledge was created, international collaborations multiplied (covering more than a dozen countries), and support was given to creating spin-off companies. From this environment came Nanox, specialized in bactericidal nanoparticles, and CosmoScience, dedicated to the characterization of cosmetics.

“This is when LIEC initiated comprehensive modifications in the research of ceramic semiconductors using the Pechini method,” Longo said. “There has been significant expansion in the research on piezoelectric materials, sensors, nanometric particles and thin films for non-volatile memory applications,” affirmed LIEC’s founder.

In 2013, LIEC was again contemplated with the FAPESP CEPID project, now denominated the Center for the Development of Functional Materials (CDMF). In this phase, which continues to this day, the diffusion of knowledge has grown remarkably through the use of social networks and the creation of videos, educational games and radio and television programs. In addition, LIEC researchers have established two spinoffs, NChemi Nanomaterials, of nanomaterials, and Katléia, which specializes in capillary diagnostics. In the scientific research activities, the laboratory has concentrated efforts in obtaining semiconductor nanoparticles with controlled reaction kinetics and morphology.

During the event of the 23rd, Professor Longo thanked everyone who built and still builds the history of LIEC, as well as UFSCar and the funding agencies CAPES, CNPq, FAPESP and FINEP. Finally, Longo addressed a few words to the new generations of researchers who will continue the work. The emeritus professor recommended that they plant new seeds for other crops, and that they create their own models and reinvent themselves.

The emeritus professor’s speech ended with this message: “In these moments of moral and ethical crisis that our country experiences, allied to a silent project of dismantling research and public education at all levels, it is imperative that we gather energies for many present and future confrontations”.

In the first line, from the left, LIEC professors. In the other lines, staff and students of the lab. Photo taken in 2004, at the Chemistry Department of UFSCar.
In the first line, from the left, some LIEC professors. In the other lines, staff and students of the lab. Photo taken in 2004, at the Chemistry Department of UFSCar.

Made in Brazil: incorporating silver nanostructures into oral hygiene products eliminates 99% of bacteria and fungi.

A research on the incorporation of silver with antibacterial properties on surfaces, conducted by the  Center for the Development of Functional Materials (CDMF in Portuguese), one of the Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers of the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) is being applied to toothbrushes.

OralGift, a company with 12 years of experience in the oral hygiene business, in association with CDMF and NANOX Tecnologia, released a new line of products coated with the NanoxClean technology. Produced with silver nanostructures incorporated into the raw materials, the surface of the product is protected against microorganisms and bacteria.

The researchers responsible for this work explain that damp environments, mainly bathrooms, display a large amount of bacteria and fungi. When toothbrushes are left exposed, there is a high possibility of contamination.

The technology incorporating silver nanostructures eliminates 99% of the bacteria and fungi accumulated on  toothbrush and the cases used to keep them, as well as tongue cleaners.

The CDMF Director, Professor Eldon Longo, clarifies the importance of the association between the research developed at the university and the industrial-scale innovation made in companies:  “Nanox is a first world company in innovation, with high technology. It develops products based on nanotechnology, mainly to healthcare. This innovation, released on the market, is another example of creativity in transforming knowledge into wealth for the country”.

 About CDMF

The Center for the Development of Functional Materials (CDMF) is one of the Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (CEPID in Portuguese) supported by FAPESP (São Paulo Research Foundation), and the National Institute of Science and Technology of Materials in Nanotechnology,  and counts with the collaboration of São Paulo State University (Unesp), Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), University of São Paulo, (USP) and the Nuclear and Energy Research Institute (Ipen).

Facebook profile: https://www.facebook.com/INCTMNCMDMC


NANOX Tecnologia is located in São Carlos city (Brazil), and was created from a project developed by three young UFSCar students, which they improved during their graduate studies in the Chemistry Institute of Unesp at the Araraquara campus.

The company was among the first ones engaged in the field of nanotechnology in Brazil, and is currently considered the largest in its business in the country, being the first national company to export nanotechnology.

(From Fernanda Vilela – CDMF)