File 4, BIO `06 - Awe-inspiring nanotechnology sessions;new companies to commercialize technologies for life sciences

Monday, April 10 I've learned to "curb my enthusiasm" whenever I see the term "nano," given the hypeNanotech that surrounds the term. A presentation at BIO, however, was awe-inspiring, and made me wonder why so many Christian conservatives have issues with some of the medical research being done today. If the Bible says that man was created in the image of God, this work---assuming that reasonable controls were in place--- surely reflects the Divine, and promises to alleviate a great deal of human suffering. The session summarized some of the results that nanotechnology-based drug delivery systems are already having in animal tests, and suggests what they might do in humans once approved and commercialized. Stem cellsA video clip (this one from Johns Hopkins University---not sure it's the same one shown at the conference) of a paralyzed mouse before and after treatment with one stem-cell nanotherapy (using nanogel) bore witness to the potential power of nanotherapies. Two highlights were presentations made by:
  • James R. Baker, director of the University of Michigan's Nanotech Institute for Medical and Biological Sciences, who discussed various projects, including work that has resulted in biocompatible dendrimers---work that will be carried on, outside the ivy covered halls, by a new spinoff called Avidimer Therapeutics, based in Ann Arbor. His group received a grant from the Gates Foundation recently, and their work has repercussions for drug and vaccine delivery and development.
  • a presentation on nanotech's role in tissue "self assembly" by Sam Stupp,Sam Stupp Director of Northwestern University's Institute for Bio-nanotechnology in Medicine. Read a summary of a recent tutorial he gave on the subject here. It was he who showed the mouse videotape. A new company, Nanotope, is being set up in Illinois to focus on commercializing this work.
GeckoAlso interesting was Nanosystem chairman Lawrence Bock's presentation, an overview of the potential forms available for life science applications, with an interesting aside on how nanofibers on the gecko's "toes" interact, with weak Van der Waals attraction to the surfaces around them; the fibers function as a sort of "one-sided" velcro. He mentioned how nanofibers might be engineered to optimize drug transit time within the intestine. The gecko bonds at 10 N per square centimeter, but reportedly Nanosys has achieved "three Geckos" worth of adhesion, in testing so far. -AMS