Bath chemist wins prestigious award for life-saving idea

University of Bath chemist Dr Asel Sartbaeva has won a prestigious award for her outstanding contribution to science at the WISE Awards for women in science, technology and engineering.

Dr Sartbaeva, from the Department of Chemistry, won the WISE World Award for her pioneering technology which allows vaccines to be stored and transported without refrigeration, potentially saving millions of lives globally.

Dr Sartbaeva was presented with her award by HRH The Princess Royal

She received the award at a glittering ceremony in London on Nov 9 with Royal Patron of WISE, Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, and 500 guests.

Dr Sartbaeva said: “I feel very honoured to have received this award. I always felt very passionate about my work, seeing my work being recognised by WISE is very humbling. I felt very emotional when they announced my name and it took me a while to process that it was me! I feel very touched, happy and very proud. Thank you.”

After taking her daughter to be vaccinated Dr Sartbaeva noticed that the vaccines were kept cold in a fridge – which is needed because many vaccines break down and become unusable or even toxic at room temperature.

Dr Sartbaeva was inspired to create a new method she calls ensilication, which locks vaccines in a microscopic ‘cage’ of silica, the same stuff that sand is made from. This keeps them inert even at high temperatures and removes the need for cold storage – which is not only expensive, but in many parts of the world is impractical or unreliable.

She said: “Once the proteins in a vaccine break down and tangle up, it’s useless. You can think of it like an egg that’s been boiled – it can’t be unboiled.

“So the ability to store and transport proteins at room temperatures or even hotter would remove a major logistical problem for safely delivering vaccines and other medicines to patients around the world.”

Professor Chris Frost, head of the Department of Chemistry, said: “Congratulations to Asel for the tremendous achievement of winning the prestigious 2017 WISE World Award. It is deserved recognition of her high profile and impactful research on stabilising vaccines without refrigeration using innovative chemical technology.

“This work has the potential to save lives around the world and is a fantastic example of the imaginative and exciting work taking place within the Department of Chemistry.”

WISE chair and Microsoft managing director Trudy Norris-Grey said, “Our winners show how women are solving some of the world’s most critical health and social issues using science and technology. I hope they will inspire more girls to follow STEM careers because we need more like them – females are our biggest pool of untapped talent.”

Dr Sartbaeva’s WISE award comes just a week after she won the Biotechnology Award at the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) Global Awards 2017 for her ensilication work.

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