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Nanobiotechnology July 2019 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Ivona Bradley

Nanotechnology-Based Molecular Computing

Why is this topic significant?

A novel platform that uses nanoparticles as logic gates and lipid bilayers as circuits could likely drive opportunities in molecular computing and nanoparticle circuits.

Description

Researchers at Seoul National University have developed a nanoparticle platform on a supporting lipid bilayer: a lipid nanotablet. The lipid bilayer acts as the chemical circuit board, and the nanoparticles act as logic gates. The lipid nanotablets contain small unilamellar vesicles, glass flow chambers, and DNA-modified light-scattering plasmonic nanoparticles. The DNA-modified nanoparticles contain gold nanorods and silver shells, gold nanospheres, or silver nanospheres on gold seeds that exhibit red, green, and blue scattering signals, respectively. The nanoparticles are either immobile receptors (that report the information) or mobile floaters (that carry the information of upstream gates to downstream gates). Each nanoparticle logic gate can sense molecules (the input) and can trigger particle assembly or disassembly (the output). Using the platform, the researchers demonstrated a set of Boolean logic operations (creating true/false statements), the fan-in/fan-out of logic gates (finding out the number of inputs a logic gate can take and the maximum number of logic inputs a single output can drive reliably), and a multiplexer (which is a combinational logic circuit).

Implications

Although the Seoul National University research is only proof of principle, the novel lipid nanotablets are a clear sign that applications of molecular computing have evolved significantly since the early experiments of Leonard Adleman, a computer scientist working at the University of Southern California who pioneered the uses of biological molecules such as DNA as the functional components of biological computers.

Little doubt exists that research into molecular gates is a fast-growing and active area and—in the near future—companies that develop molecular-scale electronics are likely to move past experimenting to produce functional building blocks that mimic current semiconductor transistors. Already, scientists have mimicked all the common logic gates conventionally in use in silicon circuitry at the molecular level.

Impacts/Disruptions

The lipid-nanotablet research is significant because it demonstrates a small step toward creating a more complex biocomputer. However, such a biocomputer is extremely unlikely to challenge silicon technology in conventional computing in the near future. Nevertheless, many niche markets exist that the technology could excel at. For example, the lipid nanotablets' ability to generate many answers in parallel makes it an ideal candidate for drug development and discovery.

Most emerging technologies need an enabling infrastructure, and the emergence of this infrastructure will affect the rate of development and commercialization. In molecular computing, the enabling components of such an infrastructure may not yet be obvious or available. Therefore, participants need to be realistic and practical about emerging technologies and their prospects for development and eventual commercialization. For example, the novel lipid nanotablets are far from nearing commercialization. In fact, the maturation of this emerging technology could be slower than one would like because proponents of emerging technologies often tend to overpromise and underdeliver. Therefore, the field of molecular computing may continue to be primarily technology driven for the coming years.

Scale of Impact

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

Time of Impact

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

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Molecular computing, DNA storage, electronics

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Nanotechnology-Enhanced Cannabinoids

Why is this topic significant?

Superior performance improvements may enable nanotechnology-enhanced cannabinoids to gain a competitive edge in the growing market for cannabinoids products that the looser restrictions on cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids have created.

Description

Cannabinoids (CBDs) are classes of chemical substances that can bind to cannabinoid receptors in the body and alter neurotransmission through a presynaptic mechanism. The most notable CBDs are cannabis-derived CBDs such as tetrahydrocannabinol. Cannabis-derived CBDs have a range of medical uses that focus mostly on relieving the symptoms of major illnesses and the side effects of their treatments. Studies have found that cannabis and cannabis-containing products can be effective in countering chronic pain and muscle spasms. Researchers have also found some evidence that cannabis can reduce nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy. However, cannabinoids have poor bioavailability; some CBD products have as low as 10% absorption into the blood stream. Scientists are looking to develop nanotechnology-enabled delivery systems for these CBD products. As an example, drug-delivery-system developer Lexaria Bioscience runs a CBD research program that aims to improve the performance of the company's patented CBD-delivery platform—Dehydratech—with nanoemulsions. (Lexaria creates its Dehydratech by using controlled dehydration to conjugate CBD and fatty acids into a delivery platform.) The research program includes 11 animal studies. Already, Lexaria has developed a wide range of beverage formulations that contain nanoemulsions-enhanced Dehydratech and offer superior performance characteristics.

Implications

Medicines (such as CBD-based drugs) with poor water solubility represent the majority of drugs already on the market, and typical methods for increasing the solubility and bioavailability of such drugs consist of encapsulating the molecules in various biocompatible and water-soluble carriers, such as liposomes, nanodiscs, and nanoemulsions. Using nanoemulsions to improve performance could make CBD products cheaper overall, because the user has to buy less to gain the same effect. Furthermore, Lexaria claims that its nanoemulsions-enhanced CBD products have no bitter taste—a common characteristic of some commercially available CBDs that are not part of a delivery system.

The market for CBD-delivery products—although not yet mature—is highly competitive. Already, other companies, such as Kazmira and Isodiol, are looking to capitalize on using nanotechnology to improve the performance, including water solubility, of CBD products. Lexaria's nanoemulsions-enhanced CBD products may have to deliver substantial—not incremental—performance improvements to truly gain a competitive advantage in the growing market for CBD products.

Impacts/Disruptions

US federal law still classifies cannabis as a controlled substance, but 33 states have legalized medical use of cannabis, and 10 states also permit recreational use of the drug. In May 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began the first public hearing about the legalization of CBD in the food-and-beverage market. The FDA plans to gather data and determine how to regulate the manufacture and marketing of CBD products. However, the legalization is unlikely to spread from country to country very quickly. Nevertheless, because of the move toward legalizing cannabis for both medical and recreational use, new commercial opportunities for CBD—such as Lexaria's products—will continue to emerge.

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

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Food and beverage, health care, pharmaceuticals, agriculture

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: