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Nanobiotechnology November 2020 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Ivona Bradley

Predicting Future Pandemics

Why is this topic significant?

Microsoft's Premonition plans to enable public-health systems to improve the efficacy of interventions and improve the costs of approaches.

Description

Microsoft has unveiled its Premonition advanced early-warning system, which can enable scientists to monitor Earth's biome like monitoring the weather to detect pathogens and disease-carrying animals early and prevent outbreaks from turning into pandemics. Premonition uses robotic sensing platforms, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, cloud-scale computing, and metagenomics (analyzing genetic material from environmental samples) to autonomously monitor mosquitoes, collect environmental samples, and scan and analyze their genome for pathogens that could become biological threats. Already, Premonition has scanned more than 80 trillion base pairs of genomic material. In 2016, during the Zika outbreak, Microsoft deployed ten robotic smart traps (predecessors of Premonition) in Harris County (Houston, Texas). The traps identified and selectively collected mosquitoes with about 90% accuracy. Microsoft and Harris County Public Health plan to continue implementing the new Premonition system to monitor threats in real time. Microsoft also plans to partner with Bayer to use Premonition to improve its vector-control strategies with the aim of eradicating malaria by 2040.

Implications

Highly connected networks, ever-more-powerful artificial intelligence, and increasingly comprehensive databases enable researchers and practitioners to foresee a wide range of phenomena at an earlier stage now than they could in the past. Such predictive capabilities enable users to identify issues early and potentially avoid problematic outcomes. As more and more data see collection across an increasingly broad range of fields, many application areas will emerge. The ability to investigate massive databases and correlate genomic information also offers a wide range of application opportunities that will only increase in number as databases grow in size and connect with one another.

As advanced algorithms and artificial intelligence become increasingly powerful and their use proliferates across applications, an increasing number of organizations will benefit. The allure of the operational improvements and cost reductions these technologies can deliver is driving their implementation. In health care and public health, using automation technologies can have high stakes and manifold societal implications. Policy makers and consumer-protection agencies will have to pay close attention to developments in this area.

Impacts/Disruptions

The world saw Ebola epidemics in West Africa between 2013 and 2016 and a Zika epidemic in Brazil in 2015. In addition, the coronavirus outbreak continues to claim lives around the world: At the time of this writing, the World Health Organization reports that coronavirus disease 2019 (covid-19) has caused more than 1.15 million deaths worldwide. The ongoing covid-19 pandemic continues to highlight (as previous epidemics highlighted) the urgent need for scientists to develop a better understanding of how and where to intervene to combat epidemics most effectively. The use of applications that provide a head start for medical personnel, law-enforcement agents, and professionals in a wide variety of industries could make the difference between success and failure in addressing emerging issues and improving public health.

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: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Health care, public health, prevention, forecasting, medical equipment, diagnostics, genomics, biosensors

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Key Areas to Monitor (Part 2)

Why is this topic significant?

Stakeholders should monitor key issues and uncertainties that could have an outsize impact on how companies commercialize nanobiotechnologies.

Bioelectronics

Bioelectronics with improved electrical performance and biocompatibility could alter the direction of R&D for bioelectronic medicine, for which developments in the design of nanoscale systems have so far been the main driver. Developments in bioelectronics may benefit patients with chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn's disease.

What to watch for:

  • Organizations that are developing nanoscale systems capable of modifying the electrical signals that pass along nerves in the body
  • Progress in small-scale clinical trials of implantable bioelectronic devices in humans
  • The use of bioelectronics implants to enhance brain function

Nanotoxicology

Broad acknowledgment of the knowledge gaps that exist in the characterization, mechanisms, and toxicokinetics of nanomaterials highlights the high strategic priority for the need to support programs that conduct research to close those knowledge gaps. Research that looks into the potential side effects of nanotechnology is of great importance to companies seeking to commercialize nanotechnology and nanobiotechnology products. Such research could enable engineers to alter the design of individual nanomaterial ingredients and adjust various nanomaterial quantities so that the nanomaterials do not have a harmful effect on the human body or in the environment. Globally, regulators will continue to base laws for products on nanotoxicity studies.

What to watch for:

  • Efforts by organizations to increase the size of published research addressing the toxicological and environmental effects of engineered nanomaterials
  • Development of nanotoxicology-screening instruments and methods that accurately assess the environmental, health, and safety risks from exposure to nanomaterials
  • Development of in silico modeling and simulation capabilities that help predict the potential impact of new nanomaterials on health and the environment and guide the design and development of new products
  • The coverage of nanotoxicity in the popular press—especially in parts of the world where product regulations are increasingly requiring the clear labeling of nanoingredients in products

Hype

Nanotechnology's potential to create an innovative and high-growth market is the subject of intense speculation and excitement. However, the hype surrounding new technologies, such as nanobiotechnology, often exceeds the practical reality and tends to add fuel to the speculative fire. Developers of emerging technologies often tend to overestimate the technologies' short-term market potential and underestimate their longer-term market potential, leading only to disappointment when scientific and technical milestones or market developments fail to materialize as they expected. Therefore, in addition to monitoring the technical and market uncertainties that are likely to temper the pace of nanobiotechnology's development, technology planners are wise to heed the fact that hype is a common pitfall in technology development and commercialization. In times of dire need for medical technologies, such as it is the ongoing covid-19 (coronavirus-disease-2019) pandemic, the hype could push nanotechnologies to the forefront of health-care innovation.

What to watch for:

  • Regulatory developments that seek greater scientific evidence of claims during regulatory approvals and that could force companies to desist making unsubstantiated product claims
  • Efforts by companies to evaluate emerging scientific developments before commercializing them
  • New emergency-conditional-approval frameworks that could fast-track nanotechnology innovations

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: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Health care, pharmaceutical research, medical materials, nanodiagnostics, nanotechnology, implantable devices, agriculture

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: