Purer, safer drugs by removing the evil twin

A new method could speed up drug discovery and lead to purer, side-effect-free medications.

“We have developed a nanomaterial that uses a simple, one-step fabrication method to sensitively detect target drug molecules in just five minutes,” says HKBU materials scientist Zhifeng Huang.

Featured in Asia Research News 2020 Magazine


A new technique amplifies optical signals coming from molecules in pharmaceuticals in just five minutes. The process could help remove undesired molecules to improve the production and quality control of pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Medicinal drugs contain ‘chiral’ molecules with R and S configurations. These molecules are mirror images of each other but are otherwise identical, and can have very different effects. For example, the S version of the antiinflammatory drug naproxen can treat arthritis pain, while its mirror R version is toxic to the liver.

Selecting only useful chiral molecules during drug manufacturing could help produce pure drugs that do not induce adverse effects. This involves detecting differences in the optical signals coming from each chiral molecule. The problem is that the signals are usually very weak, making their detection difficult and time consuming.

To overcome this, researchers at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) and their collaborators at Soochow University in China and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia designed a material consisting of silver chiral nanoparticles. When chiral molecules attach to their corresponding silver chiral nanoparticles, their signal is amplified by almost ten times. This speeds up the detection process, and makes it more accurate and less expensive.

“We have developed a nanomaterial that uses a simple, one-step fabrication method to sensitively detect target drug molecules in just five minutes,” says HKBU materials scientist Zhifeng Huang.

The novel nanomaterial will eventually provide a new platform for efficiently and effectively analysing the purity of synthesised compounds, and will help to produce drugs without side effects, says HKBU chemist Ken Leung.

Further information

Associate Professor Zhifeng Huang | E-mail: [email protected]
Department of Physics
Hong Kong Baptist University

Associate Professor Ken Leung | E-mail: [email protected]
Department of Chemistry
Hong Kong Baptist University

Read this story in the Asia Research News 2020 magazine. 

Published: 15 Jan 2020

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Reference: 

Yang, L. et al. Chiral nanoparticle-induced enantioselective amplification of molecular optical activity. Advanced Functional Materials 29, 1807307 (2019).
Medicine