A Time of Turmoil and a Time of Opportunity

As this month’s blog is being written, the US has a “shelter-in-place” directive that has been extended through the end of April.  There are many reports of possible medical treatments that may mitigate the current Covid-19 virus.  Most of the results are anecdotal and have not been vigorously tested.  The scientific/medical process is long and involved requiring multiple trials to prove something works.  I mention this because, the information that I write about are usually one of a kind reports.  That is why references are provided for the reader to investigate further.

While not strictly “nano”, phytomining is a very interesting concept that works with small metal particles.  Phytomining is the process of employing “hyper-accumulating” plants to extract metals from the ground. [Ref. 1]  There are a number of plants, with over 700 known, that have roots that extract metal from the ground.  There is a story that people, who understand the specific plants that grow locally, can determine areas that have gold in the soil.  The referenced article describes an experiment on a plot of land in a rural village on the island of Borneo.  Every six month, the farmer cuts off about a foot on new growth.  The plant cutting can be either squeezed to release the metal or burned to obtain the metal.  After purification the resultant material is nickel citrate.  This leads to the term phytomining or agromining.  Is this a possible means of obtaining metals that are in short supply bur needed for modern society?

Nanoparticles may be successful in targeting the most dangerous of prostate tumors. [Ref. 2] Some observations have suggested that tumors with high nerve densities might grow significantly faster and spread more rapidly than tumors with low nerve densities.  Current research has challenges in identifying the different densities.  The ability to identify nerve density would provide the ability to locate the more aggressive tumors.  That is currently difficult with existing MRI techniques since tumors with dense networks can closely resemble the tumors with an undeveloped nervous system.  Researchers in China have employed combining iron oxide with a nerve binding peptide NP41.  24 hours after injection of the contrast agent material with the iron oxide particles, the high density tumors are identifiable with an MRI scan.  This work has not been advanced to the stage where it can be tested on humans.  It seems to be promising for more than prostate tumors.

I do not normally cover specific products, however, when something seems intriguing, I will provide some thoughts.  These are initial thoughts and not any recommendations for or against a product.  There is a product in the early stages of marketing that employs 60nm particles that act a capacitors (nanocapacitors).  [Ref. 3]  The explanation is that this concept was developed as part of a leading-edge antenna investigation.  Built as an appliable, bandage type device, it contains a substrate, a layer of nanocapacitors, and a carrier layer.  The carrier layer contacts the skin where there is pain.  The contention is that the nanocapacitors interfere (?) or mitigate the electrical signals the body is transmitting from the area of pain.  Does it work?  I have not tired it, so I can not issue a judgment.  The concept seems plausible.  Are there potential issues?  There could be.  It depends on what the nanomaterials are.  At the 60nm size, the properties should be very similar to the bulk material properties.  The size of the particles probably has a specific relationship to the frequency of the signal being mitigated.  The only issue that might be possible is that if the wearer employed the device to mitigate pain and performed an action that increased the severity of the source of pain.  Time will tell on this.   

These are interesting times we live in.

References:

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/26/science/metal-plants-farm.html?utm_source=pocket-newtab
  2. https://physicsworld.com/a/nanoparticles-target-the-most-dangerous-prostate-tumours/?
  3. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/kailo-the-future-of-pain-relief#/  Scroll down to the section that starts “your body is an electrical system” for more detail on the concept.

About Walt

I have been involved in various aspects of nanotechnology since the late 1970s. My interest in promoting nano-safety began in 2006 and produced a white paper in 2007 explaining the four pillars of nano-safety. I am a technology futurist and is currently focused on nanoelectronics, single digit nanomaterials, and 3D printing at the nanoscale. My experience includes three startups, two of which I founded, 13 years at SEMATECH, where I was a Senior Fellow of the technical staff when I left, and 12 years at General Electric with nine of them on corporate staff. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, an MBA from James Madison University, and a B.S. in Physics from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

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