The future of tissue and cell engineering depends on the development of next-generation biomaterials that have full control over cell attachment and development into tissue. Since surface topography influences many aspects of cellular and molecular responses, surfaces of implanted devices for instance will one day be engineered to the desired cell shape and cell responses at the point of implantation. The usual techniques of cell patterning are based on passive methods where the intrinsic adhesive properties of the cell are exploited. By creating substrates presenting different areas with particular adhesive characteristics, one can segregate cells on the substrate plane. The main drawback of these techniques is their irreversibility since the differential adhesiveness is permanent. Researchers in France have investigated a new direction for three-dimensional cell patterning that could find applications in tissue engineering. Rather than relying on substrate chemical or physical modifications, they perform the cell patterning using external magnetic forces with which they control the organization of cells on a substrate and create a 3D multicellular assembly.
Over the past few years, scientists have taken advantage of the unique optical and other physical properties of metal nanoparticles to create a wide range of nanotechnology probes for electronic, optical, and microgravimetric transduction of different biomolecular recognition events. An interesting approach that was reported a couple of years ago deals with a technique that estimates the antioxidant power of certain food samples by measuring the generation and growth of gold nanoparticles. Researchers have built on these findings by developing a novel optical nanoprobe that can analyze the total reducing sugar content of samples. This technique could lead to the development of inexpensive and disposable optical nanoprobes that could find applications in a host of industrial, biomedical and clinical fields.
Carbon nanotubes possess physicochemical properties that make them an attractive possibility for nuclear waste management, especially when compared to the current tools involving activated carbon. In the environmental field, carbon nanotubes application is regarded as extremely promising for the development of novel energy-storage techniques, sensors, and sorbent materials for myriad uses including waste management. A group of European scientists want to stimulate a discussion on how the potential of carbon nanomaterials for nuclear waste mangement could be realized. They argue that the significance of the possible role of carbon nanotubes in treating and sequestering nuclear waste stems from a number of recent research results that specifically investigate the interaction between CNTs and actinides or lanthanides.
Ever since doctors started replacing worn or damaged bones and teeth with plastic, metal, or ceramic parts, scientists have been on a quest to develop the perfect material for these orthopedic and dental implants. Initially, the challenge was to overcome the body's response to foreign materials, i.e. the strong tendency to reject them. While a lot of progress has been made, and millions of patients receive implants every year ranging from teeth to hip joints, medical implants still do not achieve the same fit and stability as the original tissue that they replace. Researchers have found that the response of host organisms to nanomaterials is different than that observed to conventional materials and that nanopatterning of the surface of implant materials therefore leads to much more compatible prostheses. One approach to improving the biological performance of implants is by functionalizing a non-physiological metallic implant surface through the application of biologically active coatings. Researchers in The Netherlands are now proposing a simple and cost-effective alternative to traditional biomedical coatings for bone implants.
For the past 20+ years, the atomic force microscope has been one of the most important tools to visualize nanoscale objects where conventional optics cannot resolve them due to the wave nature of light. One limiting factor of conventional AFM operation is the speed at which images can be acquired. Over the past five years, researchers have been developing a high-speed AFM capable of video-rate image capture. An AFM with this ability enables nanoscale processes to be observed in real-time, rather than capturing only snap-shots in time. An obvious application of this instrument is to modify the sample surface while observing changes in the surface topography. Successful demonstration of this would indicate the potential for a new generation of fabrication tools. Scientists have now done exactly that.
In previous Spotlights we have addressed the numerous benefits that nanotechnology materials and applications could bring to the field of neural engineering and neural prostheses. Different biomedical devices implanted in the central nervous system, so-called neural interfaces, already have been developed to control motor disorders or to translate willful brain processes into specific actions by the control of external devices. Examples of existing brain implants include brain pacemakers, to ease the symptoms of such diseases as epilepsy, Parkinson's Disease, dystonia and recently depression; retinal implants that consist of an array of electrodes implanted on the back of the retina, a digital camera worn on the user's body, and a transmitter/image processor that converts the image to electrical signals sent to the brain. As promising as these new devices are, the reliability and robustness of neural interfaces is a major challenge due to the way brain tissue responds to the implant.
In physics, a plasmon is the quasi-particle resulting from the quantization of plasma oscillations just as photons and phonons are quantizations of light and sound waves, respectively. As the name indicates, surface plasmons are those plasmons that are confined to surfaces. The control of these surface plasmons has become increasingly attractive for optical signal processing, surface enhanced spectroscopy and sensor nanotechnology. The plasmonic properties of nanoparticles depend on various parameters such as their size or shape, and the refractive index of the environment. Surface plasmons form the basis of localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPR) sensing, which allows the detection of single molecules. Researchers have now demonstrated for the first time that the absorption and emission properties of few-atom metal nanoclusters respond dramatically to changes in the chemical environment.
Buckypaper - in which CNTs collectively behave as a random web - is characterized by its optical transparency, mechanical flexibility, high electric conductivity, uniform dimensions, tunable electronic properties, large specific surface area and smooth surface topology. All of which make this a very promising material as functional element or structural component in a wide range of applications such as optoelectronics, nanocomposites, chemical separations, biocompatible platforms, electronics, and energy conversion and storage. So far it has been difficult to simultaneously retain the intrinsic properties of individual CNTs and to have versatility in creating different shapes, both problems unavoidably resulting from post-growth fabrication processes. A research group in China has now reported a simple approach for the direct and nondestructive assembly of multi-sheeted, single-walled carbon nanotube book-like macrostructures (buckybooks) of several millimeters in thickness with good control of the nanotube diameter, the sheet packing density, and the book thickness.