Revolutionary New Nanomanufacturing and Medical Sensor Technologies Presented at New England Nanotechnology Association Meeting


We attended the December 2014 meeting of the New England Nanotechnology Association, which was held at Northeastern University's Center for High Rate Nanomanufacturing. The meeting focused on developments and advancements in nanofabrication including the launch of a new nano offset printing system (NanoOPS), a look at the future of nanomanufacturing, developments in nanotechnology sensors and a new drug delivery method using nanorods to deliver insoluble drug therapies. Dr. Ahmed Busnaina began the meeting by discussing the launch of the NanoOPS prototype and the successful industry and university partnership to establish the Nano-Bio Manufacturing Consortium. The NanoOPS printing technology will reduce the cost of nanomanufacturing and also enable manufacturers to bring better products to market faster and more cost efficiently.

Dr. Busnaina gave an overview of the manufacturing uses and the industrial promise of printing technology and sensors utilizing nanotechnology. Current nanotechnology manufacturing, such as 3D printing, is silicon-based requiring the fabrication of $10-$15 billion manufacturing facilities which utilize massive quantities of water and power. These facilities manufacture products such as the touchscreens used in Kindles and tablet computers and the antennas incorporated in cellular telephones. Available manufacturing processes limit the size and form of what can be produced to structures greater than 20 microns in dimension. Dr. Busnaina explained that a paradigm shift is underway by illustrating the technology that was current when electronics last had a 20 µ line width: the year was 1975 and collars were wide, pants had bellbottoms, Bill Gates had just dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft, and Elvis was still touring.

The next generation of nanotechnology offers the promise of improved medical diagnosis and treatment. Metabolic sensors the size of band aids can measure fighter pilots' glucose and other body chemicals through the skin for up to three weeks. Wearable sensors are also being developed to monitor for cancer and cardiac disease biomarkers in high risk patients. One prototype sensor being developed by Biolom measures just .1 mm x .4 mm and can detect four types of cancer. ( One can imagine sensors being created that would sense and warn of a coming seizure or diabetic insulin shock.

Advanced nanosensors are also being developed for manufacturing and environmental uses. The sensors can also be used in water to detect the presence of viruses, bacteria, and contaminants that would make the water non-potable. Similar water sensors can detect and monitor antibiotics and pharmaceuticals in water. Oil sensors are being developed for underwater use to help in positioning wells for drilling and for detecting oil leaks. In the future, sensors could be used to detect areas where environmental contaminants are being off-gassed or illegal drugs are being manufactured.

All of these sensors operate wirelessly with stored power and are usually read using a separate meter, either stand-alone or one attached to a cell phone or laptop.

The next era of nanomanufacturing will include developments in wearable and electronic technology. Wearable activity sensors or cell phones may be bendable, foldable, and featherweight. Electronic shielding can be incorporated in our cellular telephones and personal data devices to help protect our electronic privacy. While these technologies have exciting consumer applications, they also have critical defense and industrial applications.

Dr. Cihan Yilmaz gave the final presentation of the meeting and discussed a novel method of nanofabrication for oral delivery of poorly soluble drugs using electrical current to fuse the material into solid nanorods. He explained that many important drugs and pharmaceuticals are poorly soluble and require high doses or intravenous delivery to be useful. Current delivery methods have the disadvantage of potential infection, unwarranted side effects, and ineffectiveness. Dr. Yilmaz has discovered a method to fabricate nanorods incorporating an FDA approved polymer with the drug in such a way that it will deliver a consistent dose that is bioavailable and improves current methods of drug delivery. This technology is being prepared for the first phase of clinical studies.

For additional information about nanotechnology, our nanotechnology jury study, or the defense of toxic tort and environmental litigation generally, please contact David Governo at [email protected] or Sarah O'Leary at [email protected].