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Archive for October 21st, 2006|Daily archive page

Biology via design, and print via 3-D

In nano on October 21, 2006 at 10:43 pm

Biology via design, and print via 3-D
By Conrad de Aenlle International Herald Tribune

Published: October 20, 2006
The marvels of the information age exist mainly in two dimensions on a computer disk or monitor. In the post-information age, they are expected to be more tangible and substantial, occupying the same three-dimensional space we do.

One of the most intriguing developments anticipated by Marina Gorbis, executive director of the Institute of the Future, is “intentional biology,” or genetic, pharmaceutical or mechanical biological alteration. “We’re going to be able to design and manipulate our bodies more and more and hack into them in various ways,” she predicted.

Three pioneers in this field – Synthetic Genomics, founded by Craig Venter, a leading figure in mapping the human genome; Codon Devices; and Amyris Biotechnologies – are hacking into lower forms of life, for now, including organisms invented in their labs.

Two companies Gorbis mentioned that work on the human nervous system were Cyberkinetics, which makes neural stimulation devices, and the drug maker Memory Pharmaceuticals.

Another nascent development expected to flourish in coming decades is a three-dimensional printer that would use nanotechnology to make physical objects by dispersing molecules according to programmed patterns, much as a conventional printer sprays ink to form words and images on a page.

“You put in a formula and design for something, and the printer will etch, layer by layer, the actual three-dimensional object,” Gorbis said. She emphasized that the results would not be holographic images or other facsimiles, but actual objects, including functional electronic equipment.

She expects 3-D printers to be a fact of commercial life “definitely in the next 20 to 30 years,” but some companies, notably Z Corp. and Stratasys, are getting a head start. They make prototypical printers used in industrial design.

The big promise of 3-D printers is that they will usher in a new era of home-based manufacturing and unprecedented choice, Gorbis said. She foresees an intermediate stage in which makers of, say, cellphones invite customers to a store to create the handset of their choice on the spot. After that, she said, they may become fairly ordinary pieces of household equipment.

“This changes the way we think about materials,” she said. “You just get the chemical package and assemble it. This allows us to create light products that are highly flexible and personal.”

The marvels of the information age exist mainly in two dimensions on a computer disk or monitor. In the post-information age, they are expected to be more tangible and substantial, occupying the same three-dimensional space we do.

One of the most intriguing developments anticipated by Marina Gorbis, executive director of the Institute of the Future, is “intentional biology,” or genetic, pharmaceutical or mechanical biological alteration. “We’re going to be able to design and manipulate our bodies more and more and hack into them in various ways,” she predicted.

Three pioneers in this field – Synthetic Genomics, founded by Craig Venter, a leading figure in mapping the human genome; Codon Devices; and Amyris Biotechnologies – are hacking into lower forms of life, for now, including organisms invented in their labs.

Two companies Gorbis mentioned that work on the human nervous system were Cyberkinetics, which makes neural stimulation devices, and the drug maker Memory Pharmaceuticals.

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Communication and risk assessment: keys to unleashing nano-potential

In nano on October 21, 2006 at 10:41 pm

[Date: 2006-10-20]
Link to Source
‘Science and politics do not always dance together easily,’ said Dutch MEP Dorette Corbey, speaking on the first day of the European Forum on Nanosciences in Brussels on 19 October.

When the science in question has evoked some controversy, politicians and scientists can be even less in step. But both were present at the forum, and dancing to the same tune as they examined the potential of nanoscience and nanotechnology, raising awareness of this relatively young field, and risk and risk perception.

Both scientists and politicians are dependent upon one another, and it therefore makes sense for them to work together and agree upon a common approach to nanoscience. Scientists, and particularly those in the public sector, require funding, as well as appropriate regulations, if any are put in place; governments are responsible for ensuring that their citizens are not exposed to any harm, and that opportunities to climb up the competitiveness ladder are not missed.

If the full potential of nanoscience is to be exploited however, public concerns must be taken into account, whether or not they are believed to be justified. If Europe does not address problems early on, they will come back later with more force, said Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik. ‘We must patiently explain […]. Hiding things will bring even bigger problems in the future,’ he added.

This view contrasts somewhat with that of Giovanni Carrada, a science journalist. One of the lessons learned from the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) affair was that more technical information is not the answer. ‘You can never turn the general public into experts,’ he told the conference.

Mr Carrada listed other lessons learned from GMOs as: the source rather than the content of information will either win or lose the public’s trust; uncertainties must be acknowledged; citizens should be involved upstream; technologies should not be regarded as machines.

A number of speakers agreed on the importance of involving the general public in nanoscience from the beginning. ‘Initial perceptions are very difficult to change. They frame the issue for a very long time,’ said Mr Carrada. What makes this difficult with nanoscience, as highlighted from Donald Bruce of the Church of Scotland, is that the concept is still quite vague, and is therefore not attracting much interest from society. Indeed, a Eurobarometer on nanotechnology showed a very low awareness of the subject. Instead, Mr Bruce suggested communication strategies focusing on the many areas where nanoscience is developing – nanomedicine and nanotechnology for the environment, for example.

While there are still risks to be assessed in these two areas, the potential for improving quality of life is enormous. In healthcare for example, nanoscience can improve diagnosis, the monitoring of conditions, and treatment with the aid of nanosized tools.

Ruth Duncan is a Professor of Cell Biology and Drug Delivery at the Welsh School of Pharmacy, Cardiff University, UK, and Director of the Centre for Polymer Therapeutics. She gave an introduction to what could be achieved in nanomedicine, but then referred to some of the challenges that must be addressed first. ‘We must give realistic timelines,’ she said.

Of course the new technology must be safe. In addition, researchers are under immense pressure to find effective inexpensive materials. When new materials or technologies are developed, this knowledge must be translated into a product, and exploited on the marketplace. Professor Duncan referred to a number of products that have been developed in Europe but exploited in the US. ‘We don’t want to be buying technologies back later through licensing agreements. This is far too expensive,’ she said. Part of the solution may be helping scientists to understand the needs of the manufacturing sector, she suggested.

Fragmented research efforts are also standing in the way of nanomedicine, according to Professor Duncan. She appealed for pan-European efforts and pan-European standards. More integration is also needed between disciplines, she said, calling for more inter-disciplinary conferences bringing scientists from traditionally separate disciplines together, and more degree courses on, for example, nanomedicine.

The interdisciplinary approach is also important at European level, she stressed. ‘My concern was that in earlier framework programmes, nano was in one box and health in another. We need an integrated approach,’ said Professor Duncan. She is confident that the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) provides this integrated approach.

Finally, Professor Duncan returned to the subject of communication. Scientists need to engage with the public, and interact with politicians. She lamented the fact that few MEPs attended the Forum on Nanosciences. Their absence was partly due to their heavy schedules, but partly to nano-experts not ‘speaking the right language’, she said.

As debates in the media pick up speed over the risk of nanoscience on the one hand, and its potential on the other, politicians are however taking an interest. On 28 November MEPs adopted an own initiative report welcoming a Commission action plan on a safe, integrated and responsible strategy for nanosciences and nanotechnologies for the period 2005 to 2009. The report by Czech MEP Miloslav Ransdorf stresses the need to increase public investment in research as world-class infrastructure is needed if the EU is to remain competitive in nanoscience.

The report also called upon the EU to clarify the legal and business environment for new nanotechnologies, and to create a nanoscience patent monitoring system governed by the European Patent Office.

For further information on the European Forum on Nanosciences, please visit:
http://www.cost.esf.org/index.php?id=875

For further information on nanoscience and nanotechnology, please visit:
http://cordis.europa.eu/nanotechnology/

Hip chip uses nanotechnology to monitor healing

In Health, nano on October 21, 2006 at 10:08 pm

(Nanowerk News) It is as small as the tip of a pen, but a microsensor created by University of Alberta engineers may soon make a huge difference in the lives of people recovering from hip replacement surgery.
The U of A research team has invented a wireless microsensor to monitor the bone healing process after surgery. Using nanotechnology, the researchers built a tiny device that measures the degree to which bone attaches itself to a surgical implant – a process called osseointegration – and lets doctors know when the joint needs to be replaced.
“The ability to monitor and quantify this healing process is critical to orthopedic surgeons in determining a patient’s rehabilitation progress,” said Dr. Walied Moussa, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, who has a lab in the National Research Council’s National Institute for Nanotechnology, based at the U of A. “Until now, there has been no quantitative method for assessing osseointegration.”
“This microsensor not only reduces post-operation recovery time, it will also help reduce the wait time for patients needing artificial joint implants,” he said.
The sensor will be permanently implanted with the joint and is powered kinetically – it uses the natural movement of the patient’s body as its power source. It stays dormant until a doctor asks it to start transmitting data.
Careful monitoring of how patients are healing will help them recover as quickly as possible and resume normal activities with less chance of stressing the fracture during recovery and rehabilitation. It also allows the surgeon to more accurately decide when it is safe to send patients home from the hospital with their new implants.
The device will also cut down the need for X-rays to monitor bone functionality, reducing costs and exposure to radiation. And the sensor can detect and identify bone loss before it’s even visible on a radiograph.
This research can also be applied to artificial knees, hip replacement and other joint therapy.
Earlier this year, TEC Edmonton, a joint initiative of the U of A and Edmonton Economic Development Corp., filed a provisional U.S. patent application for the work.
Moussa collaborated on this project with Dr. Edmond Lou, a research associate in the Rehabilitation and Technology Department of Glenrose Hospital in Edmonton and an adjunct professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Dr. John Cinats, section head of orthopedics for Capital Health and associate clinical professor at the University of Alberta Hospital.
Source: University of Alberta

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Green chimney could save the planet

In Uncategorized on October 21, 2006 at 12:37 am

A new power plant chimney that converts greenhouse gases into helpful substances could have a huge impact on global warming.
By David Whitford, FSB Magazine
October 20 2006: 9:10 AM EDT
Read more here