From anti-bacterial food packaging to harnessing traditional Chinese medicines: top Chemistry scholars showcase their work

11 March 2015

Top chemistry scholars at the University of Auckland are counting down to the annual Research Showcase this weekend where PhD students condense years of research work into just 12 minutes.

The Showcase, a highlight of the School’s Centenary celebrations this year, is being held on 13 and 14 March with a range of public events and distinguished visitor lectures.

It is a chance to highlight the diversity of research undertaken within the chemical sciences. Presentations this year include research into turning waste from the wine industry into food-safe packaging, the use of chemical synthesis techniques to harness the health benefits of Chinese Hawthorn and research aimed at improving anti-cancer drugs.

PhD student Ken Olegar says his work on turning winery waste – the remnants of grapes after they are crushed – into plastics could result in a new line of antioxidant and anti-bacterial food packaging.

“The compounds I have isolated and used in these new plastics have proved to be stable in laboratory testing so we know they are effective against bacteria that cause food spoilage,” he says.

“This is the start of a product that could definitely make it to market because it not only helps avoid the synthetic compounds used in most kinds of packaging we use now but the agricultural industry in general is looking for new ways to reduce waste and this is an effective way to do that.”

Daniel Chorley, in his fourth year of study towards a doctorate, is researching how to synthesise potentially active molecules found in Chinese Hawthorn (Crataegus pinnatifida). The Chinese believe the plant is beneficial to those suffering cardiovascular disease.

“Around half of all drugs we use today are derived from naturally-occurring molecules, including more than three quarters of cancer drugs which have their beginnings in nature,” Daniel says. “So the investigation of molecules from plants shown to have medicinal effects could allow us to modify and improve those molecules and develop them as potential new medicines.”

Hannah Holtkamp, in her second year of doctoral study, is researching the behaviour of metals in the treatment of cancer. Metals have a long history of being used in medicines, notably platinum-containing anti-cancer drug Cisplatin, widely used in chemotherapy.

“Unfortunately, chemotherapy often has severe side effects so my research is about improving the drug development process by designing better analytical techniques to investigate potential side effects of metal-containing anti-cancer drugs."

The 100th Anniversary of the School of Chemical Sciences at the University of Auckland is being celebrated with a range of public events and distinguished visitor lectures. For details go to: www.chemistry.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/our-school/centenary-celebration.html

For media enquiries please contact Anne Beston - a.beston@auckland.ac.nz