An Ontario teenager who recently moved from Singapore to Canada won a national science award for her groundbreaking work on the anti-ageing properties of tree pulp, officials said.
Janelle Tam, 16, won the R39, 000 award in the 2012 Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada for showing that cellulose, the woody material found in trees that enables them to stand, also acts as a potent anti-oxidant.
"Her super anti-oxidant compound could one day help improve health and anti-ageing products by neutralizing more of the harmful free-radicals found in the body," Bioscience Education Canada said.
Nano-crystalline cellulose is non-toxic
Tam's work involved tiny particles in the tree pulp known as nano-crystalline cellulose (NCC), which is flexible, durable, and also stronger than steel.
"NCC is non-toxic, stable, soluble in water and renewable, since it comes from trees," said Tam, a student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute.
She chemically bound NCC to a well-known nano-particle called a buckminster fullerene, or buckyballs, which are already used in cosmetic and anti-ageing products.
"The new NCC-buckyball combination acted like a 'nano-vacuum,' sucking up free radicals and neutralising them," said Bioscience Education Canada.
"The results were really exciting," Tam said, adding that since cellulose is already used as filler and stabilizer in many vitamin products, one day she hopes NCC will make those products into super-charged free radical neutralizers.
NCC superior to vitamin C
NCC may also be "superior to Vitamin C or E because it is more stable and its effectiveness won't diminish as quickly," Tam said.
Canada's national forest research institute, FPInnovations, has predicted a R1, 9 billion dollar market in the coming decade for NCC.
A pulp and paper mill that opened in Quebec now serves as the world's first large-scale NCC production plant.
"When we founded the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada 19 years ago we believed then, as we do now, in the potential of our youth to develop the next big breakthrough in science," said Sanofi Pasteur Canada President Mark Lievonen, who presented the first place prize.
(Sapa, May 2012)
New advances in anti-ageing