Mahmood Akbari, a PhD student and fellow in the UNESCO-Unisa Africa Chair in Nanosciences and Nanotechnology, together with Dr. Razieh Morad, a post-doctoral research fellow of the chair, never allowed the Covid-19 pandemic to derail their mission.
Akbari sauid a raft of measures and regulations imposed globally to curb the transmission of the coronavirus not only restricted peoples’ movement but this also meant that scientists could not access experimental laboratories on full-time basis.
But as the lockdown restrictions were eased, the duo successfully initiated a joint research project together with scholars in other countries with a view to proposing a way of treating Covid-19.
“We proposed a hybrid drug delivery system by simulation as a promising candidate for Covid-19 treatment that helps the experimentalist to overcome the pandemic,” said Akbari. He said their mutual hard work is beginning to gain momentum for all computational chemists and biophysicists to be able to model various approaches and to be able to propose efficient therapies for the experimentalist. The study was based on the advice of his supervisor, Professor Malik Maaza, incumbent of the U2ACN2, he revealed.
Akbari, together with his team, chose to model and study the mechanism of coating proposed drugs such as artemisinin, artemether, artesunate, chloroquine, and hydroxychloroquine onto metal nanoparticles like silver, gold and platinum. This is because the antibacterial properties of these metals have already been proved to decrease the side-effect of the drugs concerned.
Said Akbari: “Our modelling result on the study of the interaction and conjugation of artemisinin, artemether, and artesunate on silver nanoparticles has been published in the Journal of Nanoparticle Research.”
In addition, Akbari said, the results obtained regarding the process of coating chloroquine (CQ) and hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) onto the metal nanoparticles of silver, gold and platinum are in the last step of the publication process in the Scientific Reports journal. This is an online peer-reviewed open access scientific mega-journal published by Nature Research.
Akbari’s keen interest in nanoscience and nanotechnology first emerged during his bachelor degree studies in applied physics at Ferdowsi University Mashhad (FUM), in his home country, Iran. “Since nanotechnology improves existing science and engineering, it enables our relatively new ability to manipulate and characterise matter at the level of single atoms and small groups of atoms,” he said.
Akbari has already completed two master’s degrees, one in the field of Nanoelectronics at the University of Cape Town, and the other in the field of Atomic and Molecular Physics in Iran. In addition, he is a fellow of the Nanosciences African Network (NanoAfNet).
Throughout his studies, Akbari has been recognised for his exceptional research work, for which he has received numerous awards. The most prominent being the Promotion Award of Nanotechnology (student section) of the Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council. He also earned second place in the Nanotechnology Division at the 10th Scientific-Educational Festival of Students, also in his country.
Under the guidance of Maaza, Akbari and Morad are currently involved with helping research groups make theoretical and modelling contributions to the advancement of nanoscience. In March 2020, they organised a two-day workshop in ‘First-Principle and Atomistic Modelling in Materials Science’ at the iThemba Laboratory for ‘Accelerator-Based Sciences’ (LABS), Cape Town. The workshop aimed to empower post-graduate students and post-doctoral researchers to become familiar with the new topics and concepts of materials modelling related to the nanoscale.
“It is my honour to work in such an outstanding research group. We get the benefit of attending national and international seminars, conferences, workshops, and schools to improve our skills and knowledge in the field of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.
Furthermore, we have been provided with chemicals and novel experimental equipment in a wide variety of labs at Unisa and iThemba LABS/NRF,” Akbari said. The chair also hosts distinguished scientists annually, with the research students/fellows at iThemba LABS having an opportunity to engage in discussions with them.
Until the outbreak of the Covid-19 early in 2020, attending physical contact conferences, lectures, and workshops and holding face-to-face discussions with others in the same and related fields was believed to be one of the best ways for post-graduate students and researchers to learn more about their subjects.
“I believe Covid-19 has unpleasantly made everything virtual and could influence the motivation of all young researchers. At the beginning of the lockdown in South Africa, we were motivated to create a research group consisting of international scholars to have some contributions to fight against the invisible SARS-Cov-2 virus,” said Akbari.
His main research projects during the last three years have focused on the following aspects of nanotechnology:
- In 2020, Akbari modelled a hybrid system, as a drug delivery system containing some newly proposed drugs against Covid-19, which were loaded onto such metal nanoparticles as silver, gold, and platinum to reduce the toxicity and side-effects of the drugs.
- In 2019, he investigated the multi-functionality of vertical graphene nanosheets, including their surface tension, applicable as a super-capacitor, and their solar selective absorber abilities.
- In 2018, Akbari studied the atomistic simulation of quantum transport in nano electronic devices, including the use of a field-effect tunnelling transistor, consisting of a few layers of hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) sandwiched by graphene sheets.
Akbari’s research could be accessed through a list of his publications on Google Scholar