Nanotech, the manipulation of individual molecules to produce materials with new and unique structural properties, is poised to become a major force in advanced materials research that will affect areas of research as diverse as drug delivery, electronics, and even cosmetics, according to speakers at the "NSTI Nanotech 2005 Conference" held in Anaheim, CA, last month.
A few products are already on the market, like ZinClear, transparent zinc-oxide nano-sunscreen by Advanced Nanotechnology Limited (www.apt-powders.com). Most, however, are looking at commercialization in five or more years. "Successes will be few and far between," according to Keith Larson, managing director, Intel Capital. "Those most likely to be successful will approach nanotech as a way to improve an existing product."
"Nanotechnology is an enabling technology, not the product itself," emphasizes Amit M. Kulkarni, Ph.D., research scientist at GE Global Research Center.
Ambri Technology (www.ambri.com.au) is a case in point. It is developing its Ion Channel Switch (ICS) technology for a wide range of biosensor applications, including point-of-care diagnostics, bacteriological detection, food testing, environmental monitoring, veterinary diagnostics, and drug discovery lab diagnostics systems. The immediate focus is on cardiology, bacteriology, and respiratory applications.
In designing the ICS technology, "We copied nature," according to Bruce Cornell, Ph.D., founder and chief scientist. "The ICS forms by self-assembly of lipids." The system is designed as a membrane two molecules thick, with a thin layer of gold (insulated by the surface lipid), an ionically conducting reservoir space to store ions that have crossed the membrane, gramicidin ion channels (resembling pipes) that traverse the membrane, and receptors that decorate the membrane to recognize target molecules.
"We have the equivalent of the inside of a cell. The membrane does not conduct ions when the channels are misaligned. Only when aligned are the ions conducted," Dr. Cornell emphasizes. Because recognition of a diagnostic marker is read as a change in an electrical current, the ICS membrane may be interfaced with a computer chip.
The system offers "direct electrical reading, array optics that equal or exceed the reliability of electrical systems, and miniaturization," Dr. Cornell says, and is inexpensive. It allows multiple tests to be performed simultaneously on a single, disposable chip that can be read on a small hand-held reader and integrated into many different platforms.
StarPharma (www.starpharma.com), also represented at the NSTI meeting by Dr. Cornell through his role in Invest Australia, is developing dendrimer nanotechnology to develop "defined and biocompatible nanoscale objects built from the bottom up." VivaGel, its nanotech drug to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV, was reportedly the first nanotech drug in the world to enter human trials.
StarPharma's dendrimers may be designed for polyvalent interaction. They are stable, safe at therapeutic doses, efficacious against a wide range of diseases, and cost-effective to manufacture. The benefits of this drug delivery method, according to the company, include increased rigidity, which makes more predictable placement of surface groups possible and thereby results in more specific targeting and enhanced control of surface functionality.