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Posted on Mon, Mar 1, 2010 : 4:44 p.m.

Nanotechnology at University of Michigan's M-NiMBS looks like science fiction

By Joe Bauer

When you look at the platforms and projects section of the M-NiMBS (Michigan Nanotechnology Institute for Medicine and Biological Sciences) institute at University of Michigan, their work looks like it could be straight out of a science fiction novel, but these are projects in action right now.

M-NiMBS has a dendrimer technology that looks a bit like a cluster of proteins in a sort of cross between a star shaped and tree shaped structure that reminds me a little bit of coral. The dendrimer acts as a vehicle for agents (other things that can do something) that take on the roles of detecting, targeting, and then delivering a payload or taking an action. Now, I’m not a nanotechnologist, but it seems to me that the multipurpose nature of this technology means it could be reused for other applications. Because of that, it makes this technology very exciting. Just swap out the agents to change the targets and the actions it takes when it finds the targets.

One of the M-NiMBS projects based on this technology is nano-sensors that would go in your blood stream and trigger when you've been exposed to radiation. A remote sensor on your body would scan a capillary for the trigger and would then sound the alarm to let you know when you're in trouble. Another of the dendrimer based projects that M-NiMBS is working on is one that seeks out cancer cells and destroys them without harming any of the non-targeted cells. A picture (at the bottom of this page) from their Web site shows this working on mice.

It seems that we are only seeing the beginning of this sort of interdisciplinary nanotechnology and biotechnology development. NCRC, the North Campus Research Complex, is the 173.5-acre complex of buildings that the University of Michigan purchased from Pfizer last year. In a recent e-mail to University of Michigan staff, Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and Health System CEO, Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, wrote:

“We have identified the first two technology anchors to develop at NCRC. The first is a world-class program in biointerfaces, which includes an interdisciplinary mix of nanotechnology, microfluidics and sensors, cell and tissue engineering, and biomaterials and drug delivery."

So the question is, what should the science fiction of today be if this is what the reality of nanotechnology is right now? Is this an area where the real technology may be ahead of what seems like science fiction?

By day Joe works as a senior systems administrator at the University of Michigan, and by night he is a Technology Management PhD student at Eastern Michigan University's College of Technology. Joe is particularly interested in the transition to the Information Age and what effect it is having on social and organizational structures. His current studies are focusing on how the Newspaper industry is handling this transition. You can also follow Joe on Twitter at @joebauer or at his blog.