'Miracle' material may kill tumors, purify water

Synthetic pores are a potential game-changer for the treatment of diseases and for regions without access to clean water.
Written by Tuan Nguyen, Contributor on

It's pretty impressive when you think about it. Our bodies' ability to stay alive and kicking -- it's all made possible by the smart little pores on the surface of our cells that allow for the absorption of essential nutrients all the while keeping harmful substances out. And now, for the first time ever, a team of scientists have figured a way to artificially re-create these pores.

The ramifications are huge. Theoretically, a miracle material that can regulate the transmission of various substances can be used to cure diseases and kill tumors by altering the way the cells function or to purify water by filtering out salt and pollution. We all know the great challenge of cancer and diseases. But we should also know that an estimated 900 million people don’t have access to clean water and that two million children die each year from diseases caused by drinking contaminated water.

The researchers created the synthetic pores by using the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory to force donut-shaped molecules called rigid macrocycles to pile on top of one another. The stacks of molecules were then stitched together using hydrogen bonding. The resulting structure was a nanotube with a pore less than a nanometer in diameter.

The pores are quite selective, allowing potassium ions and water to pass through, but not to other ions such as sodium and lithium ions. Basically, it already has the discriminate ability to turn salt water into drinking water.

"This kind of extreme selectivity, while prominent in nature, is unprecedented for a synthetic structure," said University at Buffalo chemistry professor Bing Gong, PhD, who led the study.

The next step in the research is to fine-tune the structure of the pores to allow different materials to selectively pass through, and to figure out what qualities govern the transport of materials through the pores, Gong said.

The details of the research was published on July 17th in the Journal Nature Communications.

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