Views of Nanotechnology in Biomedical Engineering

General points
In medicine and surgery, Nano and Micro Technology is expected to revolutionize, or replace, most therapies over the next 25 years. Cell surgery and genetic surgery are promising the most significant and revolutionary growth application fields in medicine. For this reason, engineering and science need to prepare new solutions to enable the current manual cell processes to be carried out efficiently, reliably and consistently. To achieve this aim will require a number of steps to be taken as a large, perhaps nationally coordinated, research effort combining the work of many researchers. First, the understanding of the processes across disciplines needs to be more through than is found currently. Secondly, an improved evaluation of cell physical behaviour during the processes needs to be achieved; this requires new sensing methods. From this position, it will be possible to understand how best to apply technologies, and which technologies offer the most potential to benefit the processes. At this stage, it will be possible to design systems that are effective and optimal, in order to advance the field most effectively.

Importance for Technology Research at Aston
At Aston in engineering and applied science, important areas for research are new sensors, actuators and mechanisms, and the harnessing of the potential of photonics and some aspects of biochemistry. The field of research is highly multi-disciplinary, combining medicine and biology as applications supported by traditional areas of engineering, computer science, physics and biochemistry. It is important to note that engineering is following a path that is the top/down in scale of size, as it approaches potential solutions, whereas biochemistry is a bottom up process. In biochemistry, it is possible to grow actuators and sensors.

These are some of the important groups of medical applications for Aston:

Micro/nano scale tools will improve the medical procedures involving delicate surgery on individual cells and the understanding of biological and body functions. Micromanipulation tools such as submicrometer mechanical probes, cell handling technology, integrated fluid circuits will allow researchers to characterize the chemical and mechanical properties of cells and to design cell manipulation devices, further on to perform cellular surgery and therapy, genome synthesis and diagnostics. Currently, clinicians rely on the spontaneous, self-organizing ability of cells and tissues to join and heal the components they manipulate. In the case of cell-surgery devices it will be possible to rely on the spontaneous self-organizing capabilities of molecules to join and heal the components that are placed together.

Medical Micro/Nano electromechanical systems for early disease diagnosis and prevention have the key advantages of being small size, low power demand, and low cost per function. Small size allows in vivo implants and surgical procedures to be performed in confined spaces. MEMS can be fabricated to create a complete sampling system, including sensors to discriminate, actuators to impart motion, electronics to process and transmit information and, where appropriate, for control and information functions (Smart micro-tools).

One most promising future of nanotechnology is to produce durable, rejection-resistant artificial tissues and organs. A small successful artificial implant is the pace maker for the heart. This is an integrated system which can be further miniaturized using Micro/Nano techniques. There are many applications for further sensor prostheses, such as hearing aids.

Drug synthesis and drug delivery is one main aspect. The new formulations and routes for drug delivery provided by nanotechnology will enormously enhance the therapeutic potential due to direct effective delivery of new types of drugs to the specified body sites.

Micromanipulators or microrobot hands driven remotely by microactuators would improve microsurgery by eliminating the minimum space requirement needed for manual instrument manipulation. Human hand movement would be proportionally reduced and transferred to the robot hands, and restitution forces from the object would be sensed by microsensors on the robot hands and fed back to a human hand as a tactile sensation. Visual information obtained by a stereomicroscope would also transfer as a video signal to a stereoscopic television display or a hand-mounted display ‘virtual reality’. Active microcatheters and microrobots where instruments can be guided to the target for therapy.

Recommended points for UK Strategies

Sensible strategies to enable the UK to progress well in the field are:-

Professor Peter Brett
Dr Xianghong Ma
Biomedical Engineering
School of Engineering & Applied Science
Aston University