15 Sep, 2008 04:43 pm
Earlier today, we posted an announcement about substantial new research grants available from the European Research Council. Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, we get news of an interesting project being funded by the US National Institutes of Health to build "neural nanomachines."
This is from the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University:
"Research to be led by [ASU scientist] Rudy Diaz will focus on assembling nanomachines designed to deliver electrical signals to neurons on command. Applications of the technology would include bio-sensing and delivery devices that could be used to detect and treat a variety of human neurological disorders.
The team’s goal is to gain new insights into the pathological obstruction of neural signals and the development of new and more precise neural-stimulation technology. With existing technology, viewing the “microscopic dynamics’ of what is occurring in the human body at a cellular level “is like observing human activity on Earth from an orbiting satellite,” Diaz explained.
The team will molecularly assemble a nanodevice that is best described as a remotely powered and remotely controlled pacemaker. It will be built on a DNA chassis that includes antennas for receiving power and commands from the outside world, and batteries to store and deliver that power. The antennas are built of Noble metal nanospheres that take advantage of the plasmon resonance to amplify and focus light with nanometer precision.
Artificial electrocytes – electric organ cells that work like batteries, such as those that naturally occur in fish such as electric eels – will be constructed from liposomes (fat cells) that will have ion pumps and ion gate molecules incorporated into their lipid membranes. The whole structure will have to be encapsulated in a DNA “cage” to prevent the components from being short-circuited by the body's fluids.
The group hopes to prove the functionality of each component independently and to demonstrate that the entire assembly works as designed. . . “Once you have such capabilities, it has the potential for application in deep brain stimulation, the treatment of brain damage, or such things as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease,” Diaz said."
Although this work does not involve atomically precise devices and is not directly related to molecular manufacturing, it certainly can qualify as an early form of nanomedicine, and so we find it quite intriguing.
Originally published on: Responsible Nanotechnology