Joined: 16 Mar 2004
|Posted: Tue Aug 19, 2008 11:54 am Post subject: From Children's Bladders To The iPhone
|From Children's Bladders To The iPhone
One of the most embarrassing problems a child can suffer from is an uncontrollable bladder. For seven children with defective bladders resulting from spina bifida, Dr. Anthony Atala found a solution using nanotechnology. In experimental operations from 1999 to 2001, Atala took pieces of their malfunctioning bladders and grew them new ones.
Atala's work, which he is still developing at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University, is one of the most stunning examples of how nanotechnology--the science of manipulating matter on an atomic scale--is profoundly reshaping scores of areas of science. Atala was one of the keynote speakers at the Forbes/Wolfe Nanotechnology Forum held this week in Albuquerque, N.M.
Forty-eight years ago, Nobel laureate Richard P. Feynman jumpstarted enthusiasm for nanotechnology with a talk he gave called "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom." Feynman asserted that shrinking things dramatically--whether they were electronics or books--would have surprising effects. "When we get to the very, very small world---say circuits of seven atoms---we have a lot of new things that would happen that represent completely new opportunities for design," Feynman declared.
Feynman's talk was dead on--and still ahead of its time.
Conference Chairman Josh Wolfe, managing partner at New York venture firm Lux Capital, kicked off the Albuquerque meeting with the claim that nanotech is ushering in a scientific renaissance in controlling matter. By manipulating materials that are smaller than 100 nanometers (a billionth of a meter, or about the size of three atoms in a row), scientists are producing dense semiconductors and hard drives, carbon nanotubes that are 20 times as strong as steel, incredibly sensitive cellular diagnostics and water filters so finely meshed they can turn raw sewage into potable water in seconds.
The promise of nanotechnology is not just emotional but practical. Apple uses nanomaterials to "paint" conductive materials such as indium tin oxide onto the surface of its iPhone. Thatís what makes its touch-screen work. Parked outside of the hotel was a sporty looking pickup truck powered entirely by the NanoSafe 35-kilowatt hour battery from Altair Nanotechnologies. Altair offered rides during lunch.
Other efforts are still in the lab. Chad Mirkin, co-founder of the 7-year-old molecular diagnostics company Nanosphere and director of the International Institute of Nanotechnology at Northwestern University, makes nanoparticles that ferry genes and proteins through the body that can be used to diagnose Alzheimerís and prostate cancer. Mirkin says his test is a million times more sensitive than standard diagnostic procedures, but it is still several years away from commercial release.
A panel of toolmakers from Veeco and Molecular Imprints talked about instruments they have developed that can image materials at the atomic level. David Gino of Molecular Imprints, a company that can "emboss" chips with circuits 20 nanometers across, hopes to start selling by 2009 a production system that will make hard-disk drive platters dense enough to hold 700 gigabits of data per square inch--about seven times more capacious than current disk platters.
David Rossi of Veeco sells an imaging tool called an Atomic Force Microscope, which creates high resolution portraits of single atoms. Michael Scheinfein from FEI described his companyís Titan scanning/transmission electron microscopes, the most powerful commercial scopes available. The devices pinpoint individual atoms on a substrate.
Wake Forest's Atala has been working on his organ regrowth techniques for a decade. His technique: Harvest progenitor cells from a bladder or kidney, grow them outside the body and then coat them inside 3-D structures that are "baked" in an oven-like incubator. Within six weeks you have a partial organ ready for implanting back into the patient. Atala has reproduced in his lab a human kidney that produces real urine. One of the startups commercializing this work is Tengion in East Norriton, Penn. It now has 20 patients enrolled in mid-stage trials with its Neo-Bladder.