Inside Rensselaer
Fifth Annual NanoBiotech Conference Highlights Innovations, Challenges
* Fifth Annual NanoBiotech Conference Highlights Innovations, Challenges
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The NanoBiotech 2007 conference attracted more than 125 attendees from around campus and the region.
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Nanotechnology is slowly transforming the field of biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry, and researchers presenting at the NanoBiotech 2007 conference last month called for innovation and vigilance to ensure a fruitful future for the science of manipulating tiny stuff.

About 130 scientists, professors, researchers, students, policy-makers, and venture capitalists from academia, government, and industry attended the all-day event at Rensselaer’s Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. Sponsored by the Rensselaer Alumni Association, this popular annual conference, now in its fifth year, attracts multidisciplinary, international attention for its deep focus on nanotechnology and biotechnology.

This year’s event highlighted more than 20 cutting-edge presentations broken up into different topic sections. About half the presentations fell under the heading of innovations in nanobiotechnology and nanomedicine, with diverse subject matter ranging from the regulation of cell adhesion to nanomanipulation of single RNA molecules and more general topics such as nanotech’s future in the medical device industry.

Raj Bawa, president of Bawa Biotechnology Consulting in Ashburn, Va., and adviser/patent agent in Rensselaer’s Office of Technology Commercialization, organized the conference and also presented on recent advances in nanoparticle drug delivery. Despite many technical and regulatory roadblocks slowing down the proliferation of nanobiotechnology, Bawa said the number of nano-engineered health products on store shelves and in hospitals will continue to grow.

“Nanomedicine, nanopharmaceuticals, and targeted drug delivery are going to become a bigger part of medicine in the future,” Bawa said. “The Holy Grail is to be able to deliver a pharmaceutical to a particular tissue or specific site in the body … and release the payload at that tissue or site. The benefits are obvious here and this is the focus of a lot of research, and the direction in which nanopharma is headed.”

A major key to commercializing nanomedicines, he said, will be developing technology to inexpensively and reliably grow vast quantities of biocompatible nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes and other polymers.

“Nanomedicine, nanopharmaceuticals, and targeted drug delivery
are going to become a bigger part of medicine in the future,” Bawa said.
“The Holy Grail is to be able to deliver a pharmaceutical to a particular tissue or specific site in the body . . .
and release the payload at that tissue or site. The benefits are obvious here and this is the focus of a lot of research, and the direction in which nanopharma is headed.”

The second session of presentations focused on environmental, health, safety, and ethical issues of nanotechnology, while speakers in the third session discussed nanotechnology law, business, and policy issues.

During his morning keynote address, Robert Linhardt, the Ann and John H. Broadbent Jr. ’59 Senior Constellation Professor of Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering at Rensselaer, said more research is required to better understand if nanoparticles present any threats to human health. Nanoparticles, because of their tiny size, are extremely difficult to track and trace in the body, he said, and it is still unknown if and how the body metabolizes or eliminates ingested nanomaterials.

“We have to consider the topic of accidental exposure, which I feel has not yet been adequately addressed,” Linhardt said. “I think these are critical aspects of nanotechnology and its applications in the future.” He is currently partnering with other Rensselaer faculty in a project to examine the effects of introducing carbon nanotubes into developing chick eggs.

Linhardt also spoke about the recent wave of publicity surrounding his and his colleagues’ discovery of a nanocomposite paper that can store energy and be used as a rechargeable supercapacitor and battery.

These paper batteries, which are essentially conventional paper infused with carbon nanotubes and ionic liquid, are novel in that they can be printed like paper, can endure a wide range of temperatures, and are integrated devices with all of their components fused at the molecular scale. Linhardt said he expects similar devices and applications, where the nanotubes are fully encapsulated, to become more prevalent.

Additional presentations at the conference included researchers from the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., Johns Hopkins University, Albany College of Pharmacy, Lux Research, Foley & Lardner, Phillips Lytle LLP, the University at Albany, the New York Biotechnology Association, and several other organizations. Selected presentations from the conference will be published in upcoming issues of the peer-reviewed journals Nanotechnology Law & Business and Nanomedicine. Next year’s fall conference has been tentatively titled “NanoBiotech 2008: From the Lab to the Marketplace.”

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 1, Number 5, October 11, 2007
©2007 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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