A lab like no other: medicine's next big thing?



About nanotechnology: nanotechnology is science at the size of individual atoms and molecules: objects and devices measuring mere billionths of a meter, smaller than a red blood cell. At that size scale, materials have different chemical and physical properties than those of the same materials in bulk, because quantum mechanics is more important. For example, carbon atoms can conduct electricity and are stronger than steel when woven into hollow microscopic threads. Nanoparticles are already widely used in certain commercial consumer products, such as suntan lotions, "age-defying" make-up, and self-cleaning windows that shed dirt when it rains. One company manufactures a nanocrystal wound dressing with built-in antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties. On the horizon is toothpaste that coats, protects and repairs damaged enamel, as well as self-cleaning shoes that never need polishing. Nanoparticles are also used as additives in building materials to strengthen the walls of any given structure, and to create tough, durable, yet lightweight fabrics.

Gecko to the rescue: geckos can scale smooth walls at a whopping three feet per second, and in last decade scientists have begun to understand how these little lizards can defy gravity. It turns out that gecko feet have millions of little projections, called setae, which split into hundreds of projections shaped like spatulas. Each of these tips can attach to smooth surfaces by taking advantage of intermolecular forces, which are individually relatively weak and unstable but can combine to generate enough force to allow a gecko to hang upside-down from one foot.

Professor Jeff Karp, an investigator in the Harvard-MIT health sciences and technology program and his collaborators had made a new polymer called poly(glycerol-co-sebacate acrylate), created a mold for the polymer using the same processes that are used to make computer chips, utilized some tricks to make the polymer biodegradable and nearly invisible to the immune system, and tested these nifty Band-Aids on pig intestine in the lab and in the peritoneal cavity of live rats. Since the gecko-inspired adhesive does not require repeated re-alignment of the tissue being patched together, it can reduce the time a patient spends in surgery. Additionally, it can be utilized to connect pieces of the colon in patients with Crohn’s disease, or to patch lungs without worrying about air leaks, or even to deliver drugs to parts of a heart that might have died after a heart attack. If all goes well, this bio-inspired adhesive will be found in a hospital near you in less than five years. (source: karplab.net, MIT)