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Confab to highlight nanotech for bio

Posted: 21 Nov 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:confab bio? nanotechnologies? MEMS?

Advances in nanotechnologies for medicine and biology will be detailed at the December International Electron Devices Meeting in San Francisco.

The IEDM Emerging Technologies session on Dec. 16 will feature invited papers on emerging uses of micro- and nanofabrication techniques in the life sciences, from restoring vision to subcutaneous implanting of drug release mechanisms.

Incurable outer-retina eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa result in blindness and call for research in artificial vision. University of Southern California researchers propose to adopt a treatment to stimulate the retina via electrodes at many distinct locations, to create a pattern of neural activation and thus cause a visual perception.

The researchers report that simulations suggest 1,000 electrodes may be required to restore vision. Researchers from USC will detail the circuit design and remote powering aspects of an advanced image-processing system that may form the basis of a more effective prosthetic system.

Earlier work at the University of California, Santa Cruz, showed progress toward artificial retinas with 60 implanted electrodes.

While much progress has been made in medical implants and wearable diagnostic equipment, the electronic subsystems they contain are still too large, stiff and require too much power. IMEC researchers will discuss their latest progress using emerging fabrication methods including chip-in-wire technology, which can result in bendable electronics; ultra-thin chips; novel coatings; flexible chip-carriers; ultralow-power designs and thermal energy-harvesting techniques. These advances will allow for smaller integrated cochlear implants, neural probes and enable portable autonomous diagnostic equipment.

Researchers from Brown University will discuss their work on neural prosthetics. The work addresses the needs of millions of people who suffer from serious neurological illness, ranging from diseases such as Parkinson's to complete paralysis. These patients may have a quality of life that is much impaired even if the brain itself is functional.

"Thought to action"
Brown University researchers aim to enable such individuals to communicate their thoughts directly from their brains to control assistive and therapeutic devices. Today, electronic interfaces with the brain are primitive and require too much power to operate and thus may damage brain tissue from excess heat. Some are also cumbersome to read. Brown University researchers will discuss the progress they are making in "thought-to-action" implanted cortical neurosensor arrays, which can pick up the electrical activity of individual neural cells and their microcircuits.

MIT researchers are working on several active and passive implantable drug-delivery devices based on micro- and nano-electromechanical systems technology. A subcutaneous implant for rapid drug delivery can be used to treat hemorrhagic shock on a battlefield, for instance. A reservoir, thermal actuator and sealing membrane are used in a process of localized bubble nucleation that bursts the membrane and jets the medication into the region of interest.

MIT researchers also are working on a MEMS-based implant for cancer treatment. The reservoir is sealed with a gold membrane that is dissolved by electrothermal shock when an external operator applies a current. The researchers will also discuss at the IED meeting a magnetic-relaxation technique for monitoring the efficacy of anti-cancer agents in the body in real time.

Releasing drugs continuously at a specific location in the body, such as directly at the site of a tumor, involves biological challenges. Safe adhesion of the drug-delivery system to cells is problematic, for instance. One approach is to use topological, geometric physical structures to improve adhesion. University of California at San Francisco researchers will describe how they coated three-dimensional glass microspheres with nanowires, then tested how the nanowires adhered to intestinal cells. The nanowires are adhesive to cells because of the van der Waals force (molecular attraction) that arises from their relatively large surface areas.

In his keynote, "Electronic and Ionic Devices: Semiconductor Chips with Brain Tissue," Peter Fromherz, a research director at Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry, will describe some of the research in which the institute is engaged. The institute explores the interface of the electronics in inorganic solids and the ionics in living cells to develop applications in medical prosthetics, biosensors, brain research and neurocomputation.

-Nicolas Mokhoff
EE Times

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