Science Briefs: Conference on gene mutation

Metal oxide nanosheets, which are 50,000 times thinner than a sheet of paper, will allow faster charging of power.
Metal oxide nanosheets, which are 50,000 times thinner than a sheet of paper, will allow faster charging of power.PHOTO: IBN

Conference on gene mutation

Over 300 international scientists will gather in Singapore to share their latest findings on p53, the most common gene mutation in cancer.

Known as the "guardian of the genome", p53 works as a major tumour suppressor which defends cells in the body from any form of stress, including radiation, preventing them from becoming cancerous.

However, when mutated, it loses its ability to prevent cancer formation. In fact, it turns on the body by promoting cancer cell survival and hindering cancer treatment.

The five-day event at the Biopolis Breakthrough Theatrette starts tomorrow, and is led by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's (A*Star's) p53 Laboratory and the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS). It will be the first time the International p53 Workshop, which is in its 17th year, is held in Singapore.

Among the findings presented will be a breakthrough by a research team led by Sir David Lane, chief scientist at A*Star and director of the A*Star p53 Laboratory, and Professor Kanaga Sabapathy, head of the division of cellular and molecular research at NCCS.

The team has found a way to detect mutant p53 selectively, using antibodies that are specific to each p53 mutant. The technique has been tested on patient samples.

"We are now moving on to find out whether these antibodies can be used as a drug to treat the mutant p53. If successful, it means we can potentially treat almost 50 per cent of all human cancers which are caused by p53," said Prof Sabapathy, who is also a professor at the Cancer and Stem Cell Biology Programme at the Duke-NUS Medical School.

Prof Lane said: "p53 is the most frequent gene mutation in all cancer types, especially in colorectal cancer, the No. 1 cancer in Singapore affecting both males and females.

"We hope that through our extensive research efforts in p53, we will be able to translate our findings into more targeted and impactful clinical outcomes in the next five to 10 years."

Simpler, faster way to make batteries

Researchers at Singapore's Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) have developed a new way of producing more durable and longer-lasting lithium-ion batteries, which are used to power an array of things, from mobile phones to electric cars.

They have invented a method to produce anode materials, made from metal oxide nanosheets, for lithium-ion batteries.

The simpler and faster way uses graphene oxide, a 2D carbon material with chemical reactivity that facilities the growth of metal oxides on its surface.

Graphene oxide was used as the template to grow metal oxides into nanosheet structures via a simple mixing process, followed by heat treatment.

"The new technique takes one day to produce the nanosheets, compared with one week for previously reported methods. It does not require the use of a pressure chamber and has just two steps in the synthesis process, making the nanosheets easy to manufacture on a large scale," IBN said.

IBN, an institution under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), said that the anodes made from metal oxide nanosheets, which are 50,000 times thinner than a sheet of paper, allow faster charging of power compared with current battery technology. The wide surface area of the nanosheets also makes better contact with the electrolyte, increasing the storage capacity. It is also durable and does not break easily, which improves the battery shelf life, IBN said.

"This new method could be the next step towards the development of metal oxide nanosheets for high-performance lithium-ion batteries. It can also be used to advance other applications in energy storage, catalysis and sensors," said IBN executive director Jackie Ying.

Compiled by Samantha Boh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 07, 2017, with the headline 'Science Briefs'. Print Edition | Subscribe