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Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest: May 30, 2007

Top Nano News of the Week

Foresight note: Quantum dots for cancer diagnosis "may finally be ready for widespread use in the clinic."

Headline: Evaluating multiple biomarkers with quantum dots
News source: National Cancer Institute's Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer

Quantum dots linked to biological molecules, such as antibodies, have shown promise as a new tool for detecting and quantifying a wide variety of cancer-associated molecules. Now, thanks to detailed studies of how to make these labeled quantum dots and use them to detect disease markers, so-called bioconjugated quantum dots may finally be ready for widespread use in the clinic.

Nature Protocols abstract

In this issue:

Health: Researchers probe bones' tiny building blocks
Health: Nanoparticles delivery of "Suicide DNA" kills prostate tumors
Health: Nanoparticle self-assembly triggered by tumor-associated enzyme
Clean energy: Urchin-shaped nano-batteries
Information technology: Fabricating nanoscale UV LEDs
Information technology: The road to molecular computing
Foresight Events: Productive Nanosystems Conference
Advancing Beneficial Nanotechnology - Join Foresight
Conference – SmallTimes NanoCon International
News: EPA and Nanotechnology: Oversight for the 21st Century
Toward Productive Nanosystems: A new wrinkle in evolution—man-made proteins
Editor's Pick: A scaffold of biological molecules to manufacture glass nanotubes
Nanodot: Nanotechnology *for* the environment
Contact Foresight

Nanotechnology that's Good For People

Foresight Challenge: Improving health and longevity

Headline: MIT researchers probe bones' tiny building blocks
News source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, written by Deborah Halber

In work that could lead to more effective diagnoses and treatments of bone diseases using only a pinhead-sized sample of a patient's bone, MIT researchers report a first-of-its-kind analysis of bone's mechanical properties.

The researchers' up-close-and-personal look at bone probes its fundamental building block—a corkscrew-shaped protein called collagen embedded with tiny nanoparticles of mineral—at the level of tens of nanometers…

"If you want to investigate the origins of the strength and toughness of a material, you probe it at smaller and smaller length scales," said co-author Subra Suresh, Ford Professor of Engineering… "The methodologies used in this research can be employed to assess the quality of bone with extremely high precision by providing new and detailed structural and mechanical information on the nature of its fundamental constituents."

The insights gained from the work could also lead to the creation of new, tougher materials, he said.

Nature Materials abstract

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Foresight Challenge: Improving health and longevity

Headline: Nanoparticles delivery of "Suicide DNA" kills prostate tumors
News source: National Cancer Institute's Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer

Using nanoparticles developed by members of the Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer, a team of investigators at the Lankenau Institute for Medical Research, in Philadelphia, has developed a DNA-based therapeutic agent that has the potential to treat both enlarged prostates and localized prostate tumors. When tested in mice, this new agent specifically targeted prostate tissue, producing no toxic effects in surrounding tissues.

Writing in the journal The Prostate, a team of investigators led by Janet Sawicki, Ph.D., described its use of polymer nanoparticles to delivery a so-called suicide gene that codes for the production of diphtheria toxin. The biodegradable and biocompatible polymer nanoparticles were developed by Robert Langer, Ph.D., and his colleagues at the MIT-Harvard Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence.

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Foresight Challenge: Improving health and longevity

Headline: Nanoparticle self-assembly triggered by tumor-associated enzyme
News source: National Cancer Institute's Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer

There is a growing recognition among cancer researchers that the most accurate methods for detecting early-stage cancer will require the development of sensitive assays that can identify simultaneously multiple biomarkers associated with malignant cells. Now, using sets of nanoparticles designed to aggregate in response to finding more cancer biomarkers, a team of researchers funded by the Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer has developed a multiplexed analytical system that could detect cancer using standard magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Sangeeta Bhatia, M.D., Ph.D., a joint member of the Centers for Cancer Nanotechnology (CCNE) based at both the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and MIT-Harvard, and Michael Sailor, Ph.D., a member of the UCSD CCNE, led the research team that developed what it calls a logic-based nanoparticulate system for detecting multiple cancer biomarkers.

Journal of the American Chemical Society abstract

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Nanotechnology that's Good For the Planet

Foresight Challenge: Providing renewable clean energy

Headline: Urchin-shaped nano-batteries
News source: Nanowerk News

Tweaking a standard chemical method to make nanotubes has provided researchers with a structure that looks just like a miniature sea urchin. These structures, composed of vanadium oxide, roll up during the reaction to form hollow tubes. By varying the reaction researchers were able to 'grow' these tubes into spherical/radial structures which resemble the common sea urchin.

…These are the most uniform vanadium oxide tubes formed to date in terms of wall thickness, the number of layers, and the dimensions of the hollow centre. The unprecedented density of the urchin's nanotubes provides a wealth of possible applications.

Electrochemical and Solid-State Letters abstract

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Foresight Challenge: Making information technology available to all

Headline: New fabrication technique yields nanoscale UV LEDs
News source: National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), via AAAS EurekAlert

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), in collaboration with scientists from the University of Maryland and Howard University, have developed a technique to create tiny, highly efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs) from nanowires. …the fabricated LEDs emit ultraviolet light—a key wavelength range required for many light-based nanotechnologies, including data storage—and the assembly technique is well-suited for scaling to commercial production.

Light-based nanoscale devices, such as LEDs, could be important building blocks for a new generation of ultracompact, inexpensive technologies, including sensors and optical communications devices. Ultraviolet LEDs are particularly important for data-storage and biological sensing devices, such as detectors for airborne pathogens. Nanowires made of a particular class of semiconductors that includes aluminum nitride, gallium nitride and indium nitride are the most promising candidates for nanoscale LEDs. But, says NIST researcher Abhishek Motayed, "The current nanowire LEDs are created using tedious nanowire manipulation methods and one-by-one fabrication techniques, which makes them unsuitable for commercial realization."

The NIST team used batch fabrication techniques, such as photolithography (printing a pattern into a material using light, similar to photography), wet etching and metal deposition. They aligned the nanowires using an electric field, eliminating the delicate and time-consuming task of placing each nanowire separately.

Applied Physics Letters abstract

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Foresight Challenge: Making information technology available to all

Headline: The road to molecular computing
News source: Nanowerk Spotlight, written by Michael Berger

…computer scientists attempt to exploit the computational capabilities of molecules. In doing so, they expect to realize faster (massively parallel), smaller (nanoscale), and cost efficient (energy-saving) information processing devices that are very distinct from today's silicon-based computers.

"Research related to molecular logic gates is a fast growing and very active area," Dr. Uwe Pischel explains to Nanowerk. "Presently, all common logic gates, which are used in conventional silicon circuitry, can be also mimicked at the molecular level. The general character of the concept of binary logic allows the substitution of electrical signals by chemical and optical signals, which for example opens access to a vast pool of photoactive molecules to be used for the purpose of molecular logic."

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Foresight Events

Productive Nanosystems: Launching the Technology Roadmap
Conference sponsored by Foresight Nanotech Institute and Society of Manufacturing Engineers with support from Battelle
October 9-10, 2007
DoubleTree Crystal City in Arlington, VA

Now, for the first time, the Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems will describe the R&D pathways and products resulting from this ultimate technological revolution. Join us as we explore the power of advanced "bottom-up" nanotechnology in this 14th Foresight Conference on Advanced Nanotechnology.

Feynman Prize luncheon on October 9, 2007

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Advancing Beneficial Nanotechnology

Do you believe that nanotechnology will give society the ability to tackle the hard challenges facing humanity? What's your priority for nanotechnology: cancer treatments and longevity therapies, sustainable energy, clean water, a restored environment, space development, or "zero waste" manufacturing? Or perhaps there are potential nanotech scenarios you would like to prevent.

If you would like to help influence the direction of this powerful technology, please consider becoming a member of Foresight Nanotech Institute. With your support, Foresight will continue to educate the general public on beneficial nanotechnology and what it will mean to our society.

Members receive the Foresight Nanotech Update newsletter. For a sample from the archives, see the interview of Mansoor M. Amiji, Professor and Associate Department Chair, Bouvé College of Health Sciences / Northeastern University. Says Amiji: "I hope that nanotechnology provides an opportunity for prevention, early disease diagnosis, and patient-specific therapeutic approaches. In the end, not only should we emphasize longevity, but also improve the quality of life." Join Foresight and help steer nanotech in the directions you personally support most!

Amiji interview on page 3 of Update 57 (2.1 MB PDF)

To join:

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Foresight Partners

SmallTimes NanoCon International
The Leading Nanotechnology and MEMS Networking Event
November 14-16, 2007
Santa Clara, CA

Attracting hundreds of decision makers from around the world, Small Times NanoCon International is your premier source for business alliances, information exchange and commercial strategy.

Event Highlights:

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Nanotech News

Headline: EPA and Nanotechnology: Oversight for the 21st Century
News source: Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies

A new report by J. Clarence (Terry) Davies, "EPA and Nanotechnology: Oversight for the 21st Century", examines the EPA role in nanotechnology oversight. The report considers various oversight tools for dealing with nanotechnology and proposes a number of action steps for government, industry, and other stakeholders.

According to Davies, the nanotechnology revolution provides an opportunity to institute new kinds of regulation, to create an oversight system for nanotechnology that will be more effective but less intrusive than existing forms of regulation and that will require fewer resources from both the public and private sectors. Nanotechnology can also be a catalyst for the revitalization of EPA.

Download the report (752 KB PDF)

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Toward Productive Nanosystems

Foresight note: One approach to engineering proteins to serve as building blocks in molecular machine systems, and eventually in productive nanosystems, is to use artificial evolution to produce proteins with the desired characteristics. The results on 'synthetic evolution' presented here are an advance along that path.

Headline: A new wrinkle in evolution—man-made proteins
News source: Arizona State University, via AAAS EurekAlert

[A] Biodesign Institute research team, led by John Chaput, is now trying to mimic the process of Darwinian evolution in the laboratory by evolving new proteins from scratch…

Their most recent results, published in the May 23rd edition of the journal PLoS ONE, have led to some surprisingly new lessons on how to optimize proteins which have never existed in nature before, in a process they call 'synthetic evolution.'

"The goal of our research is to understand certain fundamental questions regarding the origin and evolution of proteins," said Chaput… "By gaining a better understanding of these questions, we hope to one day create new tailor-made catalysts that can be used as therapeutics in molecular medicine or biocatalysts in biotechnology."

PLoS ONE abstract (Open Access)

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Editor's Pick

We continue our tradition of citing a special story that strikes the Editor as especially cool, but which doesn't fit within the usual editorial categories of the News Digest.

Manipulating and exploiting self-assembly is one of the fundamental tools of nanotechnology. In this elegant example, self-assembly was used to organize structure hierarchically from the nanoscopic to the microscopic to the macroscopic.


Headline: A scaffold of biological molecules to manufacture glass nanotubes
News source: Nanowerk News

In the context of their studies on the physical chemistry of a therapeutic peptide, lanreotide, researchers from CNRS and the University of Rennes have discovered that this peptide could serve as a scaffold for the spontaneous formation of silica nanotubes by simple mixing with a silica precursor in water. These hybrid tubes consist in a perfect helical assembly of molecules of the drug in a 24 nm diameter tube, the internal and external surfaces of which are covered with two thin and uniform layers of 2 nm silica. The tubes are several micrometers long and aligned in fibers of a few millimeters. Their organization is thus controlled hierarchically over more than 6 orders of magnitude, or the same ratio in length as the diameter of a hair and the height of the Eiffel Tower.

Nature Materials abstract

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Nanodot: A sample from Foresight's blog

Headline: Nanotechnology *for* the environment

Since it was the potential environmental benefits of nanotechnology that first drew me (and many others) to an interest in the field, it's good to see some official notice of that aspect. From Cordis via Nanowerk News:

"Much has been said about the potential of nanotechnologies to revolutionise the way we live, with the biggest changes forecasted to take place in materials, surveillance and healthcare. The accompanying discussions on the possible side effects of working at the nanoscale may suggest to the casual observer that the environment will be a loser in the nano-revolution. Not so, according to scientists investigating environmental nanotechnology…

"But scientists working in the comparatively unknown field of environmental nanotechnology argue that working at the nanoscale does not have to be to the detriment of the environment. Studies have shown that nanotechnologies can be used to not only monitor and prevent pollution, but to clean up pollutants once they have already made their way into the environment."

Not to mention that nanoscale, atomically-precise manufacturing should be able to eliminate chemical pollution entirely, by giving us control of our processes at the molecular level. Then there's much less excuse for throwing leftover molecules in the air and water.

—Nanodot post by Christine Peterson

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Contact Foresight

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Dr. James Lewis, Research Analyst at Foresight Nanotech Institute, is the editor of the Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest. If you would like to submit a news item or contact him with comments about the News Digest, please send an email to editor@foresight.org

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