Big Opportunities in Nanomedicine

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Big Opportunities in Nanomedicine

The world of healthcare is about to take off in a revolutionary direction as nanotechnology matures and melds with medical technology. Advanced as our current state-of-the-art seems, there are still a host of important medical interventions that are simply beyond our present abilities.

However, a flood of new research is applying nanotech to medical science, and it promises to change all this and create entirely new industries. To get an idea of what lies ahead, just consider some of the cutting-edge research published in the past year.

In the labs at Northwestern University, for example, a research team created a special nanomaterial that will self-assemble into nanostructures once it is inside the body. The team used mice that had been paralyzed with spinal cord injuries and had lost the ability to walk. The researchers simply injected the nanomaterial into the mice, and it migrated to the correct location where the injury had taken place.1

There it rapidly assembled itself into fibers on which new neurons grew to reconnect the severed nerves. It also inhibited the growth of scar tissue. Within six weeks, the mice were walking normally again. This same type of technique could be used to treat Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and other brain or spinal cord disorders.

Meanwhile, at Duke University, scientists are using enzymes from the E. coli bacteria to print nanopatterns that are needed to make lab-on-a-chip devices for medical diagnostics and other uses. Their new technique improved the precision of printing by a factor of 100, according to an article in the Journal of Organic Chemistry.2

Traditional micro-contact printing for medical devices uses what is essentially a very small rubber stamp. But this is limited by the uneven surface of the rubber. Even when the surface is extremely smooth, it contains microscopic irregularities that limit how fine the printing can be. In addition, micro-contact printing relies on a liquid ink to diffuse onto the surface, and diffusion itself spreads the detail out and makes it less precise. The practical limit of that technique is more than 100 nanometers.

The new technique eliminates the stamp-and-ink approach and replaces the stamp with a gel-like material called polyacrylamide, which doesn't have the drawbacks of silicone-based rubber. Instead of ink, the scientists used a catalyst called exonuclease tethered to the stamp by amino acids...

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