Physicist D.Sangaa delves into his nanotechnology and nanomedicines studies in the following interview.
D.Sangaa, who recently became an academic of the Mongolian Academy of Science (MAS) in January, acquired a broad range of experience by working as the deputy head of the Neutron Physics Laboratory at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) in Dubna city, Russia from 2009 to 2013.
Congratulations on becoming MAS’s newest academic. Tell us about your work, which merited this prestigious title?
MAS is the core organization of science, and only a few scientists become true MAS members. There are around 60 MAS members right now. The requirements for becoming an academic is very high. You have to be acknowledged by at least 75 percent of MAS members to earn this title. In other words, your works need to be acknowledged by other scientists and academics. Anyone can become an academic regardless of age if they’ve made a discovery significant to the nation or the world. I’m honored to have been accepted as the newest member of MAS along with well-known scientist D. Tseveendorj and deputy president of the Mongolian Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
Which of your studies impressed other academics?
My main work is the study of internal composition and characteristics of substances in all state using neutron diffraction applications, which demonstrates basic principles of quantum mechanics discovered in the 20th century. I think that fellow scientists and senior academics supported my membership because I not only focused on my own research but also taught many students and created a Mongolian team at the JINR in Dubna city.
During my four years working as the deputy head of the Neutron Physics Laboratory at JINR, I worked with scientists from 20 member countries and lead an international scientific group formed to enhance JINR’s massive nuclear equipment and design other equipment.
You have been studying nanotechnology and nanomagnetic materials and have been trying to introduce this area of study in Mongolia in recent years. What made you interested in nanoscience?
Nanotechnology is a very young branch of science and technology that’s continuously expanding across the globe. Mongolians became aware of nanotechnology in 2005, and since, it has been introduced and applied in several fields.
People seemed very interested in my nanotechnology studies, which were exhibited at the MAS biennial election for new members.
People interact with the material world all the time. It’s necessary to study the internal compositions and characteristics of materials to improve them, enhance their appearance and make them easier to use. It takes more than just looking through a microscope to do this kind of study. Complicated methods like X-ray diffraction and neutron scattering are used.
I’ve been doing this kind of research for over 30 years. [Nanotechnology] was my main area of study when I studied at Moscow State University and worked for 10 years at JINR. I’ve been studying magnetic materials with unique characteristics for the last five to six years with Russian and Japanese researchers.
Mongolians know what magnets are, but nanomagnetic materials are slightly different. Foreign scientists and I are researching ways to introduce nanomagnetic materials into medical science because we believe it would be very beneficial. For example, I collaborated with Japanese scientists on getting samples of nanomagnetic particles, studied them in detail in Russia, and published the findings for international audience.
Is it true that your research on the structural phase transition on copper ferrite nanocrystals could be used for developing cancer treatment? What did you find out through this research?
I’m striving to make a huge contribution to the health of Mongolians by introducing a new treatment for cancer using nanomagnetic materials. Some materials produce heat in alternating magnetic fields. This means that nanomaterials eventually heat up in magnetic fields depending on their nuclear spin. Apparently, cancer cells die when exposed to high temperature.
This technique targets cancer cells or the iron oxide particles to tumors by putting them inside stem cells from bone marrow that naturally home in on cancer cells in the body. Then it kills the cells. This method is much more advanced than radiotherapy or surgery.
The treatment is inexpensive, quick and highly effective, but most of all, it is painless to the patient. I’m aiming to find the best and most effective method to treat cancer by studying this interesting physics phenomenon.
…I have high hopes for the development of nanotechnology in Mongolia because the private sector and local companies are very active in this field…
When can Mongolia start using this treatment?
The treatment has been tested on animals. Currently, some clinics in developed countries such as Japan and South Korea are testing this method, but they are keeping it a secret at the moment.
I’m sure that this new technique, known as hyperthermia therapy, will be introduced to the world very soon.
Does the Mongolian medical sector know about your study of cancer treatment? Even if it’s decided that hyperthermia therapy will be introduce, wouldn’t it require considerable investment and equipment?
For a fact, it takes a long time until scientific findings are translated into practice. For example, people started using lamps 100 years after it was first created. Nowadays, scientific discoveries are brought to practice relatively faster. It will not be long until hyperthermia therapy is introduced in Mongolia.
Many things will need to be resolved to do this. The Japanese side said it’s possible to introduce this method to Mongolia after they validate their patent. The Mongolian government should start drafting a good contract and plan a proper management for it. If not, scientists can’t translate their discoveries into practice on their own.
I’ve presented my study to doctors and directors of the National Cancer Center. I met them again with Japanese researchers. I’m happy to announce that we agreed to start a project which will become the foundation for introducing hyperthermia therapy in Mongolia.
Director of the National Cancer Center J.Chinburen, doctor N.Enkhbold, and scientists from the MAS Institute of Physics and Technology will carry out this project.
In 2007, you predicted that the development of nanotechnology would speed up from 2010 to 2015 and that the real development of this field would begin from 2015. In your opinion, how efficiently did Mongolian scientists spend these past years?
Mongolians were able to get the basic understanding of nanotechnology as a result of the National Program on Nanotechnology Studies, developed by the MAS Institute of Physics and Technology and National University of Mongolia between 2006 and 2007. The government provided quite a bit of funding to this program. A doctorate of the Mongolian University of Science and Technology got a patent for a nano cloth he invented.
Nanotechnology can be applied in every field. The main thing is how we develop it and whether we can use it on a broad scale. Members of our institute have extensively studied ways to use nanotechnology for finding new energy sources.
One of the studies involves generating hydrogen energy source through nanoscience. Since the earth has ample water resources from seas and oceans, scientists across the globe are studying opportunities to generate energy using water.
Another research is aimed to create a new type of battery through nanotechnology. We’re collaborating with Taiwan researchers on this. Two of my students got their doctorate with researches in this area. Taiwan is an innovative leader, especially in nano battery production. Our institute has established a trial factory for producing a new type of small batteries using nanotechnology.
N.Jargalan, one of my students, partnered with scientists in Dubna city to study fullerene, a molecule of carbon, and its characteristics. They discovered that it’s possible to use fullerene in medicine. Jargalan plans to earn his doctorate this month in Russia.
Russia and Germany are trying to get a patent for introducing brain tumor treatment with this discovery by a Mongolian scientist. We also cooperated with French scientists in creating an accelerator with nanotechnology. One of my students, E.Uyanga, studied nano accelerators with French scientists and got her doctorate two years ago. It was the first time a Mongolian person earned a doctoral degree from a French institute. I’m proud that in every corner of the globe, Mongolians are contributing in the development of nanotechnology despite having few people specialized in nanotechnology among our small population.
In the past, you talked about producing pure cashmere with the use of nanotechnology. Is this really possible?
Honestly, no one believed me when I said that it’s possible to invent television screens using nanocrystals in the future. Yet, Korea’s LG Corporation launched a super television with nano cell technology last year.
It’s not impossible to produce pure cashmere using nanotechnology. However, the development of nanotechnology isn’t as fast as I expected it to be when I made that statement. I might have been a little too optimistic. In around 2007, Russians were manufacturing nano diamonds. A couple of days ago, a well-known Russian researcher specialized in nanotechnology stated that Russia lost its opportunity to manufacture nano diamonds due to lack of consistent and accurate policy for it. We should keep this in mind.
Mongolian researchers have accomplished quite a lot in the fields of nanoscience and nanotechnology. The government is speaking out for innovations more than before, which is encouraging and motivating scientists and researchers a lot. Even so, the state needs a special policy for developing innovative production services. It’s useless to spend heaps of money for organizing all kinds of contests among small and medium-sized businesses in the guise of supporting innovation projects.
Considerable funding and workforce will be required for developing nanotechnology and correctly implementing innovation projects. Actually, if we can overcome the first struggle and carry out a proper innovation project, the rest of the work will progress smoothly on its own. It will expand and boost the economic growth of our nation.
I have high hopes for the development of nanotechnology in Mongolia because the private sector and local companies are very active in this field.