Nanotech 2005 showcases first-generation applications

Semiconductor nanocrystals may offer intraoperative high-sensitivity detection of malignant cells, suggests Dr. John Frangioni, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA.

ANAHEIM, CA-Semiconductor nanocrystals may offer intraoperative high-sensitivity detection of malignant cells, suggests Dr. John Frangioni, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA. During his invited paper at Nanotech 2005 in early May, Frangioni noted that the current threshold for cancer cell detection is 109 cells (meaning fewer cells in the body cannot be detected with current technologies) and described pre-clinical work at Beth Israel to improve this detection limit while developing an intraoperative imaging system based on near-infrared fluorescent quantum dots.

Frangioni’s presentation was just one of several hundred life-science related papers at the nanotechnology conference, which drew about 2500 attendees and 160 exhibitors to the southern California resort. Besides the life sciences, other sessions at the four-day event covered just about all aspects of nanoscience-from nanophotonics to compact modeling-and nanobusiness, from venture investing to government funding of nanoresearch.

In her invited keynote presentation Celia Merzbacher of the U.S. National Science and Technology Council provided a wealth of information about the U.S. government’s involvement in nanotechnology, including the National Nanotechnology Initiative. She noted that nanotech is high on the list of federal R&D priorities for FY06-as it was last year and will be for FY07. Merzbacher also presented numbers from Lux Research (New York, NY) showing that worldwide investment in nanotechnology, both private and public, totaled about $8.6 billion in 2004. Interestingly, these monies divide roughly evenly between the US, Europe, and Asia/Japan, meaning nanotechnology R&D is truly global, with no single country likely to take the lead because of funding differences.

Looking forward, Merzbacher emphasized the importance of nanomanufacturing to the future of the United States. She is also anticipating the first report from the National Nanotechnology Advisory Panel (actually the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology), which is due out this month and will likely offer further insight into the US government’s thinking about this important area.

Given the global funding situation, it should come as no surprise that the Nanotech conference was strikingly international; aside from the many languages being spoken by attendees, economic development agencies were represented from as far apart as Northern Ireland and Taiwan-a couple even touting their local beer and wines at sponsored receptions later in the day.

Overall, according to several exhibitors and attendees, the event was a success and served to underscore the fast-growing global interest in nanotechnology and the longer term opportunities it represents. Lux Research pegs the sales of products that incorporate nanotechnology at more than $500 billion by 2010 (compared to $13 billion in 2004). Many of those products will doubtless involve the life sciences-in fact many at the conference believe cancer detection (like Frangioni’s work) and drug delivery will be one of the arenas to initially benefit most from all that nanotechnology has to offer.

-Stephen G. Anderson

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