Agricultural resources like camellia sinensis are used in the process Credit: IIT Guwahati

Guwahati: Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Guwahati researchers have developed a low-cost membrane technology to produce psychoactive drugs and anti-aging compounds from wide range of agricultural resources like camellia sinensis, citrus fruits and peels especially orange peels, berries, ginkgo biloba, parsley, pulses, tea, sea buckthorn and onions.

The technology is patented and developed by Prof Mihir Kumar Purkait, Head of Centre for Environment, and Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Guwahati along with his MTech student V L Dhadge. The low-cost technology doesn’t use any organic solvents.

The health-related benefits of psychoactive drugs (caffeine) and anti-aging compounds (flavonoids) attributed to stimulating detoxification of enzyme activity and inhibition of cell invasion and angiogenesis. Because of medicinal applications, flavonoid components have gained popularity as ingredients in pharmaceutical industry. These are also found in smaller amount in bamboo leaves, grapes, apples, and other natural sources.

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Explaining the process about how the technology works, Prof Purkait said, “The developed technology is exclusively pore/particle size based pressure driven membrane separation process. The water extracts of above mentioned plants/fruits/leaves at optimum operating conditions are passed through a specially made cascade membrane units of fabricated with appropriate molecular weight cut off (MWCO) membranes capable of separating targeted flavonoids selectively. Permeate and retentive part from appropriate membrane unit is then fridge dried to get the powdered product. We have synthesized stimuli responsive smart membrane for the selective separation and purification of targeted compound from the mixture of plants or leaves or fruits extract in simple water”.

The commercially available techniques use various costly organic solvents like: Chloroform, Acetone, Acetonitrile etc. Since the price of these pharmaceutical raw materials is quite high, it ultimately increases the price of the antioxidant. Since organic solvents are used, it suffers various disadvantages like: low product quality and yield, high operating and product cost, time consuming and energy intensive process for solvent recovery and has limitation to run continuation mode in industrial scale.

The technology by Prof Purkait doesn’t require costly organic solvents and uses only water. Hence, the cost of the process and price of pharmaceuticals thereon is much cheaper than that of existing solvent based separation technique.

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