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USP student scoops Second Best Paper Award at ICMEA 2019

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Joachim Emeka Arikibe receiving his award from the organisers.

An International Commonwealth scholar from Nigeria, Joachim Emeka Arikibe enrolled in Master of Science (Chemistry) in the Faculty of Science, Technology and Environment of The University of the South Pacific (USP) has received a Second Best Paper Award at an International Conference on Material Engineering & Application (ICMEA) 2019 in Malaysia.
The ICMEA 2019 Conference was organised by Malaysia’s Curtin University with Incheon National University from 23-25 August 2019.
Mr Arikibe’s paper was titled; “Synthesis, Preparation & Characterisation of Amine-Induced Bacterial Cellulose-Poly (Vinyl-alcohol) Semi-Interpenetrating Network Hydrogel”.  His paper was presented along with 60 other research papers from 16 countries and he was recognised for his excellent and profound scientific research contribution by the ICMEA 2019 Committee.
Mr. Arikibe was thankful to his research supervisor, Dr David Rohindra from the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences for giving him the opportunity to embark on a research of such magnitude that is valued so highly globally.
“Apart from this success, I also managed to publish my research findings in the journal ChemistrySelect,” he said.
Mr. Arikibe’s presentation was based on his Masters research project which was on developing membranes (hydrogels) using bacterial cellulose synthesized through fermentation of coconut water and bacteria isolated from decaying pineapple for medical applications. Bacterial cellulose (BC) synthesized using this method is known as Nata and is consumed as a dessert to prevent bowel cancer.
In Fiji, Nata is added in soft drinks, commonly known as coconut jelly. Currently, the nata industry in South East Asian countries is worth approximately $US6.2 billion.
In the medical field, BC is researched extensively because it is a biomaterial (completely biocompatible), meaning the animal body accepts it without showing signs of allergy for wound dressing and pharmaceuticals for controlled release of drugs as an encapsulating agent. However, BC swells very quickly in water showing burst release of the drug.
There is a need to chemically modify BC to allow slow swelling and drug release. Mr. Arikibe’s paper reported the synthesis of bacterial cellulose and chemical modification done using Bis (ethylenediamine) copper (II) hydroxide (Cu-en) to introduce the amine (NH2) group onto the BC network. This was necessary to allow the BC to be crosslinked by a non-toxic plant extract, genipin. Genipin is used as a traditional medicine by the Asians to cleanse the human body of toxic compounds containing nitrogen group as it has the ability to bind with the nitrogen group.
His research found that the use of Cu-en proved to be an effective solvent which was able to modify the bacterial cellulose (BC) by introducing the NH2 group on part of the OH groups of BC via prototanation
However, after crosslinking with genipin, the film forming ability of BC was lost. Poly (vinyl alcohol) was added to achieve the hydrogels in the film form. The gels prepared showed controlled swelling and drug release properties.
Overall, this research provides encouragement to the people of Pacific Islands on how to maximise the use of coconut resources to turn this resource into a billion-dollar industry knowing the abundance of coconut in the Pacific.


This news item was published on 5 Sep 2019 08:47:23 am. For more information or any High-Res Images, please contact us on email

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