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UNM is asking the state legislature for money to finish and equip empty space in the new Centennial Engineering Center for nano-bio engineering. The programs housed in this space will address the gap in transitioning technology to the marketplace.
Progress in nanoscience and bioengineering research is already producing scientific advances and economic opportunities in energy and healthcare, including a new generation of diagnostic materials, biofuels, and drug discovery. UNM faculty have generated a large number of scholarly publications and patents in nano-bio engineering and have achieved an international reputation in the field.
One of the innovative faculty involved in nano-bio research is Jeff Brinker, distinguished and regent's professor of Chemical and Nuclear Engineering in the School of Engineering, with an appointment in Molecular Genetics and Microbiology. Brinker is also one of two Sandia National Laboratories Fellows and has gained an international reputation in advanced materials and nanoscience and technology.
One aspect of his recent work combines silica (the material of beach sand) and lipids (the fatty components of cell membranes) to create microenvironments to study cellular behavior. This work advances the field from two-dimensional studies carried out in Petri dishes to three dimensional studies that may more faithfully represent in vivo environments. The cells encased in these structures can be kept alive in the lab for weeks to years and are of potential importance for studying drug resistance, dormancy, and cancer metastasis and to develop new ultra stable vaccines.
He has also combined lipids with nanostructured particles to create tiny "protocells" that are being tested now to detect and kill cancer. Commenting on Brinker's nanostructures for cancer treatment, a December 2007 "Forbes" magazine article, "The Science of Small" profiling Brinker and his research concluded, "Someday that engineering feat may turn into a commercial reality."
The unfinished lab space is where faculty researchers hope to build a program to bridges the so-called ‘valley of death' where projects are too far along to get funding from research sources, and are not yet developed enough to attract public and private sector investment. It will provide the means to both develop entrepreneurial initiatives within the campus and to effectively engage outside partners in transitioning these to startups and other commercial activity. Nano-bio researchers will work closely with STC.UNM, key external partners such as the Sandia National Laboratories and various commercial partners.
Without this program, the gap in time and money between federally funded research and investor/technology transfer mechanisms will persist, curtailing economic development. Faculty engaged in technology transfer and economic development play a key role in New Mexico's economic future, making them especially attractive targets for other states and institutions seeking shortcuts to innovation.
If UNM cannot provide mechanisms supporting technology transfer and economic development, faculty are likely to move to other institutions that do. New Mexico would then lose the opportunity to capture the economic development associated with ongoing innovations in nanotechnology and bio-engineering.
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