Researchers at UC Davis have created a new type of nanoparticle that could be used in tests for environmental pollution// and contamination of food products, as well as for medical diagnosis. The research appears in the Feb. 7 issue of the journal Nanotechnology.
Nanoparticles, according to Ian Kennedy, professor in the department of mechanical and aeronautical engineering and senior author of a paper describing the work, are microscopic particles whose size is measured in nanometers or one billionth of a meter.
These new nanoparticles have optical and magnetic properties that can be used for biosensors - devices that use these properties to test samples of food products, the environment and even human blood.
"These are two very useful properties when we want to use [the nanoparticles] for sensors and detecting things in samples," Kennedy said. Antibodies, which can be tailored to bind to specific molecules, can be attached to the nanoparticles to find certain chemicals or objects.
Checking food supplies for bioterrorism agents, the environment for toxins and human DNA for mutations are among the uses of the new nanoparticle, he said.
The technology has been proven effective in tests to detect bioterrorism agents such as botulinum toxin and ricin in samples of milk, eggs and fruit juice. The technology would be non-toxic and relatively cheap to implement, according to Kennedy, and as a result, dairies and food processing plants would be the major beneficiaries.
Additionally, the nanoparticles could be used to test for mutations in human DNA, which Kennedy said he hopes will have major medical ramifications. Tests for diseases such as breast cancer and chronic kidney disease could be performed much more quickly and cheaply than in the past, he said.
The research group has recently started a company, Synthia LLC, to develop the technology further. The company plans to apply for funding from the
federal government in two phases. First, it will demonstrate the technology's real-life applications to various government agencies, and, if phase one is successful, phase two would involve product development. However, Kennedy said most methods to implement the technology would take at least two years.
However, occupational exposure to those manufacturing the particles, air pollution and the injection of the particles into the body poses concerns about the research's safety, according to Kennedy. Regardless, he noted that these risks are secondary to the potential gains of nanoparticle technology.
"As long as we are aware of the risks and understand them properly and know how to deal with them, I think the benefits certainly outweigh any of the potential risks that we are aware of at this point," he said.
Dosi Dosev, also a professor in the department of mechanical and aeronautical engineering and a collaborator in the project, said in an e-mail interview that nanotechnology is the next step in material science.
Dosev noted that there are numerous ways in which nanotechnology is providing materials with new properties to possibly improve upon current devices, including the durability of cars and the ability to grow and recover missing tissue when seriously injured. "In terms of knowledge, the benefit is invaluable," he said.
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