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Nanotechnology leading innovation in health care and manufacturing

Nov. 17, 2011 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- About a decade or so ago, the concept of nanotechnology was little more than a science fiction idea, but during a seminar at Marshall University's Robert C. Byrd Biotechnology Center, it was apparent that nanotechnology has taken the fast track to becoming science fact.

Everything from improved treatments for cancer to more durable packaging for food can be affected by nanotechnology that is on the market today, said Dr. Arun Kumar, a recognized expert on Nanomedicine from the University of Delaware, who spoke at the second lecture of a seminar series, which is a collaboration between the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing teamed up with the Center for Diagnostic Nanosystems at Marshall.

Nanotechnology is the study, manipulation and manufacture of ultra-small structures and machines made up of as little as one molecule. The structures can be thousands of times smaller than the thickness of a strand of hair.

That technology can be applied to any item in any field including manufacturing and energy, but Kumar's focus Wednesday night was on health care.

"What's happening now is people are starting to understand more of what it is, and it's time to focus on what it can do and how it can help," Kumar said. "When you are able to look at something that small, like an infection, it can change the properties and how that infection behaves. We can look at so many things in a new light.

"Now if there is an infection, you might take an antibiotic orally that goes throughout the entire body, but with nanotechnology we will be able to treat only the area where the infection is."

That goes the same for things like cancer treatment and cardiovascular issues, said Eric Blough, associate professor for Marshall's College of Science and director of the school's Center for Diagnostic Nanosytems.

"What we are most interested in is using nanotechnology to treat chronic disorders that it once seemed like were impossible to treat," Blough said. "It's also going to do a lot to help us better diagnose them. The thought is the earlier something is diagnosed, the better it can be treated. Nanotechnology provides the most sensitive test."

In addition to providing more efficient health care treatments, nanotechnology also can provide more efficient manufacturing tools and materials. The National Science Foundation has suggested nanotechnology will become a trillion-dollar industry within nine years.

That is an industry that Martin Spears, associate director of public information for the institute, said not only would benefit scientific community, but the local business community as well.

"There are a lot of manufacturing companies in West Virginia that have the capability of producing a large variety of products that they might not know about because they don't have the technology to do it," Spears said. "If we want our businesses to grow we need to embrace this opportunity by taking advantage of this technology."

For more information, visit the Robert C. Byrd Institute's website, www.rcbi.org.