Pharmaceuticals, like a chemotherapy drug called methotrexate, can be highly effective for patients. However, these pharmaceuticals are finding their way into water bodies with wide-ranging negative implications for public health and the environment.

“Methotrexate is an anti-cancer drug used at a high dose in chemotherapy to treat cancer, leukemia, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other inflammatory diseases,” said Mohammad Arjmand, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UBC Okanagan. “However, the drug is not absorbed by the body and ends up in water channels from hospital waste, sewage, and surface waters.”

Removing these types of contaminants from wastewater can be costly and complicated explained Arjmand, who is also a Canada Research Chair in Advanced Materials and Polymer Engineering.

“We work on modifying the structure of adsorbent nanomaterials to control their ability to attract or repel chemicals,” said Arjmand.

Arjmand’s team of researchers was looking at methods to remove the anti-cancer drugs from water supplies. While doing this, the team designed a porous nanomaterial, called a metal-organic framework (MOF), that is capable of adsorbing these pollutants from water.

Adsorption takes place when the molecules of a chemical adhere to the surface of a solid substance, according to Arjmand. In this case, the chemotherapy drug sticks to the surface of the adsorbent, which is Arjmand’s MOF.

Image Credit: UBC.

“We precisely engineer the structure of our MOFs to remove the anti-cancer drug from aqueous solutions quickly,” said Farhad Ahmadijokani, a doctoral student in the Nanomaterials and Polymer Nanocomposites Laboratory directed by Arjmand.

Arjmand pointed out the MOF is an affordable technique for the removal of chemicals from liquids and waters and is an effective method to improve wastewater systems.

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“The high-adsorption capacity, good recyclability and excellent structural stability make our MOF an impressive candidate for the removal of methotrexate from the aqueous solutions,” added Arjmand. “Our research shows that particular pharmaceutical can be adsorbed rapidly and effectively onto our aluminum-based metal-organic framework.”

The research was conducted in collaboration with UBC, Sharif University of Technology, and the pharmaceutical engineering department at the Soniya College of Pharmacy. It is published in the Journal of Environmental Management.

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