Posted by: Grandma LaLa | September 12, 2014

Top 4 learnings from the FNAL lecture: nanotechnology

14-09-12 FNAL lectureDr. Chad Mirkin, distinguished professor from Northwestern University, presented this evening on the topic of “Nanotechnology: Learning to Think Big in a Field Focused on the Small.”  Prior to this event, I really knew nothing about nanotechnology other than what I’ve found in my leisure reading of espionage and science fiction novels (e.g., “Safe House: Net Force 10”).  In other words, truly nothing that could be counted as knowledge!

Given that I was mentally starting from scratch, I found Dr. Mirkin’s lecture to be challenging, stimulating, exciting, and terrifying all at once.  Amazing what this technology field can already do ~ and what it could do.

1.     nanometer

Nanotechnologies are measured in units called nanometers.  These measures are substantially smaller than a virus (30-50 nm) or even DNA (2.5 nm), yet larger than an atom.

2.     changes at the nano-level

Nonliving elements and living constitutes behave differently at the nano-level.  We’ve actually seen this for centuries in nano-particles of gold used to decorate ancient chalices and even to create the glow in deep reds of stained glass windows.  Not called nano-particles then, of course.

3.     example: medical diagnostic technology

Nanotechnologies already exist that can be used for substantially faster genetic sequencing and DNA typing.  Dr. Mirkin gave a video example of a journalist who agreed to try the test used to analyze risk factors for the use of warfarim (i.e., coumadin).  The test results returned in a matter of hours, rather than weeks.  Unexpectedly, the journalist’s test results show two known genetic risks that would adversely impact his body’s processing of warfarim.

4.     example: medical treatment options

Nanotechnologies also already exist that can be utilized to take advantage of the changes that occur at the nano-level. Protein-sequences that would be resisted as protein strings or helixes can be shaped into a sphere. This sphere, with attached protein sequences radiating from it, can be designed for absorption by cells that would otherwise resist naturally occurring shapes.

Nano-particle delivery of medications can help to reduce both the general drug toxicity (because designed to be absorbed only by certain cells, such as cancerous ones) and the specific tumor resistance (because designed in a shape that the cell doesn’t resist in the same way). Such medication is already in development for treatment of breast cancer (increasing effectiveness more than 40%), aggressive brain cancer (in which standard treatments cause damage to healthy cells), and other aggressive diseases.

Well, that’s the best I can do to remember and reiterate some of what I learned.  It’s actually one month later (10/25/14) when I’m writing and post-dating these notes.

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