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Nanobiotechnology October 2014 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Lucy Young

Nanopumping

Why is this topic significant?

Significantly improved nanomotors could find use in controlled and site-specific release of drugs in the human body.

Description

Scientists at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, have created powerful motors that are smaller than a typical human cell. The rotary nanomotors consist of a microelectrode, nanomagnets, and nanowire rotors. The scientists used a combination of alternating current, direct current, and magnetic forces to build the nanomotors from the bottom up, as well as to operate the motor. The scientists have vastly improved on previous versions of nanomotors. Previous nanomotors have achieved 5000 rotations per minute; in comparison, the University of Texas researchers' nanomotor reached 18 000 rotations per minute—which is about the same as the rotations of a motor in a jet engine. This much-improved nanomotor can work for 15 hours continuously and has the ability to work with other nanomotors in a synchronized way in order to have a more powerful combined effect.

The researchers demonstrated that the nanomotor is able to move in and mix liquids. They also showed the potential for the nanomotor to pump drugs. The device was able to rotate to release a biochemical that the researchers had coated the nanomotor in. The faster the nanowire rotors spun, the faster the motor released the biochemical. The researchers' ability to regulate the rotation precisely gives the device potential in the controlled release of drugs.

Implications

The researchers have yet to test their device in a biological system. Therefore, its efficiency and toxicology issues are unknown. However, the significant improvements that the researchers have achieved demonstrate that this nanomotor has great potential for use in drug delivery. The nanomotors could find use in treatments that require controlled release of drugs. For example, sufferers of type 2 diabetes could benefit from such a device that enables them to control precisely the amount of insulin released into the blood stream at a time when that release is beneficial. Because the number of sufferers is likely to increase in both developed and developing countries, the development of a device that uses this nanomotor could prove very popular.

Other applications include improving chemotherapy. The systemic injection of chemotherapy drugs can cause nausea. The nanomotors could find use in providing a means of directed drug delivery, with medics activating the motors in the diseased locations only, thereby reducing the negative side effects that the drug causes in other locations.

Impacts/Disruptions

Another interesting aspect of the research from the University of Texas is the bottom-up assembly. Bottom-up assembly enables the creation of complex systems from elementary subcomponents, such as molecules. The researchers' use of electricity and magnetism could find use in the manufacturing of other nanotechnologies, including novel devices.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 15 Years

Opportunitites in the following industry areas:

Medicine, research, nanotechnology

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Business Models for Eco-Friendly Meat

Why is this topic significant?

The development of business models for commercializing cultured meat is important for guiding the research for improving its manufacturing processes and accelerating its way to the market.

Description

In 2013, Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands presented the world's first lab-grown burger made from cow stem cells. The estimated cost of the burger was £215 000. In light of the creation, researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands have suggested business models for the successful commercialization of cultured meat. Their suggestion appeared in a paper in Science and Society. The researchers have suggested that cultured meat factories could work on a small scale and locally. The animal from which the manufacturers take the donor-cell biopsies could live on farms at the factory sites. A study that the researchers had undertaken previously indicated that the proximity of the donor animals to the factories—as well as the idea of local production—gained favor with members of a workshop who had initially demonstrated mixed reactions to the idea of cultured meat.

The researchers also postulated the technological developments necessary to commercialize cultured meat. The creation of a robust continuous cell line that is stable for at least 50 divisions is a crucial step in the process. A low-cost growth medium that meets regulations and scaled-up bioreactors are also essential but attainable goals. However, the researchers recognize that for cultured meat to become competitive in cost, the price of ordinary meat will need to increase significantly.

Implications

Some of the paper is speculative. The researchers highlight key areas that are essential to the further development of cultured meat. Although attaining a competitive price is important in any business model, perhaps the researchers focus too much on the idea of cultured meat's competing directly with ordinary meat. The price of manufacturing cultured meat is still a large barrier to commercialization, but the price of ordinary meat does not necessarily need to increase before cultured meat becomes desirable. Manufacturers could market cultured meat to consumers with concerns about the environment, many of whom are prepared and able to pay premium prices to support this belief. This target market would enable the selling of cultured meat at a price higher than that of ordinary meat. According to the Ethical Consumer Markets Report 2013, ethical-consumer behaviors resulted in a £10.16 billion market for ethical food-and-drink manufacturers in the United Kingdom in 2012—an increase of 36% from the previous year. If marketed correctly, cultured meat could find favor with these consumers.

Impacts/Disruptions

The need for a resolution to unsustainable pastoral farming exists: According to the World Future Council, 14% of global greenhouse-gas emissions emanate from agriculture. With growing economies and emerging middle classes in developing countries, the demand for meat is likely to increase. Cultured meats represent a possible new source for provision of meat and a means of reducing the number of livestock necessary to support the demand. However, first researchers will need to ensure that the processes from manufacturing them are indeed sustainable. Widespread adoption of cultured meats could cause significant disruption to the food industry.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years to 10 Years

Opportunitites in the following industry areas:

Food and drink, agriculture, biotechnology, research

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: