Dr Ha Phuong Thu and her dream to elevate Vietnam’s medicinal sector

Tuesday, 2017-01-31 23:30:26
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"Who knows, one day we might even be able cure cancer using only an old machine like this one.” (Credit: NDO/Hanh Nguyen)
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NDO – When meeting Dr. Ha Phuong Thu (from the Institute of Materials Sciences under the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology), only a few can believe that the small-statured woman with a soft Hue accent is a leading scientist.

From a teacher to a Dr. in nano science

Perhaps, even Dr. Thu could not believe that one day she would become a leading scientist. Continuing her family’s tradition, after graduating from Hue University of Education, Thu started teaching at a high school in Hue city. Nearly 30 years old, she decided to give up her stable teaching job in Hue to start a new but strenuous job. She bravely engrossed herself in the new job despite people's doubts.

Postdoctoral training courses on nuclear power in France and practical training at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan has opened up new horizons for her knowledge. When returning home to work at the Institute of Material Sciences – the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, Dr. Thu began to become familiar with nanotechnology, a path with many applicable possibilities in Vietnam. That was the moment Prof. Nguyen Van Hieu initiated her research on this field.

At that time in the world nanotechnology was being studied widely, but for Vietnam it was still an extremely new field. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Dr Tran Thi Minh Nguyet were the teachers to fill Thu’s head with knowledge on the field. Only three years after, she had her first international publication in the field of nano-biomedicine along with 30 other international publications in the field.

In particular, the results from her research on "Manufacturing and evaluating the effectiveness of drug delivery systems of targeted nanostructures onto cancer cells" show that multi-functional the nanoparticle drug delivery system is effective in increasing the impact of medicines on cancer cells, reducing the amount of drug use and focusing on tumours, while avoiding affecting healthy cells. The value of the work was highly praised by the National Science Council for L'Oreal-UNESCO and earnt Thu the L'Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Awards, in recognition of her work’s modern and scientific value.

We can...

"Patients battling cancer not only suffer physical and mental pains, but also face the fight for survival with willpower, energy and financial strains placed on the entire family. Sadly, an increasing number of people are suffering from cancer but so far no treatment solutions are truly effective," Dr. Ha Phuong Thu shares.

After three years, her study on "Applying nanotechnologies in producing complex FGC nano systems", along with the introduction of her product Cumargold Kare, remain two of her main preoccupations.

Dr. Ha Phuong Thu announces her FGC Nano Complex project to the public in October last year. (Credit: NDO)

Curcumin evolved with nano-technology through the simultaneous use of two types of carriers with natural origin, namely Fucoidan (brown seaweed/algae) and Saponin Notoginseng (pseudoginseng). The breakthrough of FGC Nano Complex: Nano (Fucoidan-Curcumin-Ginseng) is the use of all materials with Vietnamese natural grassy compounds.

The FGC Nano Complex has improved its solubility, optimising possibilities for packaging and protecting medicines from biological barriers, while improving the circulation time of medicine in the circulatory system, focusing active ingredients in tumours through passive targeted mechanisms. The nanoparticles can get into and focus attacks on the cancer cells while ignoring healthy cells.

Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy often suffer anorexia, even at times being afraid to eat, leading to rapid depletion. With this complex, patients can use a lower quantity of the medicine than conventional drug systems but generate higher effective performance, without causing side effects.

However, the products cost is still rather high as FGC nano complex is extracted from precious raw materials, while cancer patients often must deal with difficult financial circumstances. That lays much concern on Thu, encouraging her to take actions to share difficulties with patients.

Cumargold Kare, only a short time after its market launch, saw more than 10,000 units sold and received much positive feedback. To meet the market demand, Dr. Thu and her colleagues have to improve productivity from 30kg to 60kg of GFC nano complex (equivalent to 5,000-10,000 boxes) per month.

To attain that goal, Dr. Thu’s team must improve the manufacturing process to enhance productivity. In particular, the special machine used to produce GFC nano complex is also the product of Dr. Thu and her colleagues.

Dr. Ha Phuong Thu said that, when engaging in science, confronting difficulties is unavoidable. She and her colleagues are also researching the manipulation of nanoparticles in antibiotics to control antibiotic residues within the permitted limits in marine aquaculture.

Pointing to the test machine in her laboratory, Thu winked at us: "You may not believe this but maybe one day we can cure cancer using only an old machine like this one. In science, anything can happen!"