Nano-Revolution: Exotic Materials could be Made!!
November 13, 2010 1 Comment
A material just one atom thick yet stronger than steel and a ‘mini-submarine’ that can deliver a payload of chemotherapy deep inside a tumour are among the discoveries being presented at Nano Israel 2010. The nanotech conference in Tel Aviv has attracted researchers from across the science world, united by their work with the very, very small. The 1,500 participants at the two-day meeting which ends next week include chemists, physicists and medical researchers, all working with tiny structures around the thickness of a cell wall.
Drugs with built in GPS System
Physicists are developing new materials by removing or adding to existing structures and nano-medical researchers are building new ways to deliver drugs. According to Researcher Dan Peer:
We are all working to be able to manipulate molecules at atomic level. Sometimes the drug is there, but it doesn’t operate in a targeted manner. In such cases, scientists are trying to find ways to build ‘GPS systems’ into the drugs so they travel directly to malignant cells or inflammation.
Peer is trying to find out how to more effectively target cancer and the inflammation associated with diseases like multiple sclerosis by better directing toxic treatments like chemotherapy.
‘Therapeutic warheads’ to attack tumours
One way of doing that is to attach the cancer treatment to a vitamin that tumours happily suck up, allowing the medication to penetrate the malignant cells with ease. You can potentially create new materials, new vehicles for drugs, like very small bubbles, like mini-submarines, which carry them into the body.
Joseph Kost, a professor at Ben Gurion University of the Negev’s chemical engineering department, is working on a technique that delivers chemotherapy drug Cisplatin into tumours. The drug is carried by a tiny vessel through gaps of between 100-1000 nanometres in size, giving scientists a ‘therapeutic warhead’. Once inside, researchers irradiate the drug vehicles with ultrasound, causing them to ‘explode’ and disperse the treatment inside the tumour.Others are looking at ways to trick the body’s immune system to prevent it from identifying drug treatments as invading viruses and attacking them.
Elsewhere, physicists such as Andre Geim, winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics, are using nanotechnology to develop new materials with a surprising range of applications. Geim, a Russian scientist workingin Britain, presented his work on graphene, a one-atom-thick slice of graphite that is stiffer than diamond. You can imagine you can make athousand devices out of this graphene. Graphene’s structure could even allow it to be used for faster DNA sequencing.
Solar cells mimicking photosynthesis
For Israel, hosting the gathering of nano-researchers is a way of showcasing a sector that the government is trying to foster. INNI works to match Israel’s nanotech researchers with private industry. A recent project saw Jerusalem-based company 3G Solar work with scientists at Bar Ilan University to develop a solar cell that processes energy ina similar way to photosynthesis in plants.
Aharon Gedanken, a professor of chemistry at Bar Ilan University, isusing nanotechnology to develop sterile hospital sheets and robes using a technique called sonochemistry. The process uses a chemical reaction that produces ‘microjets,’ which throw out nanoparticles of anti-bacterial metals like zinc oxide at “such a high speed that they are embedded in the surface. The resulting fabric can be washed, even at the hospital standard of 92 degrees Celsius, without losing its anti-bacterial properties. The vision of this project is that in the future all the fabrics in a hospital will be anti-bacterial.