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Fiona Brewer

The Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network (NanoKTN), one of the UK's primary knowledge-based networks for Micro and Nanotechnologies, was set up by the Technology Strategy Board to promote and facilitate knowledge exchange, support the growth of UK capabilities, raise awareness of nanotechnology and provide thought leadership and input to the UK policy and strategy.

January 23rd, 2009

The Nanotechnology KTN

The Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network (NanoKTN), one of the UK's primary knowledge-based networks for Micro and Nanotechnologies, was set up by the Technology Strategy Board to promote and facilitate knowledge exchange, support the growth of UK capabilities, raise awareness of nanotechnology and provide thought leadership and input to the UK policy and strategy.

The NanoKTN's activities are built around focus groups which identify the gaps in the supply chain as well as identifying the UK's potential in innovation. This information is reported back to the Technology Strategy Board to input into their UK Nanotechnology Strategy and also provides leverage for channeling government funds into specific areas of need. Nanotechnology is everything less than 100nm where non-classical effects are seen and physical and electrical properties are modified due to the small spaces they are in.

On the 11th February 2009, the Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network (NanoKTN) and The Wellcome Trust are bringing together members of the nanotechnology and life science communities to explore the convergence of these two fields in its Nano4life conference. This one-day conference and exhibition will explore the key areas within the life sciences where nanotechnology offers the most opportunity to advance healthcare provision, improve product discovery and development, and keep the UK a leading force in this exciting technology area.

Micro and Nanotechnologies (MNT) are increasingly entering the healthcare field, as over the past ten years, significant research funding has been provided by governments in the race to capture the potential intellectual and economic benefits that MNT has been promising. These research efforts have produced numerous advances that are starting to be adopted by the healthcare industry. The diagnostics field in particular has benefitted from this miniaturisation trend.

There are two major issues faced by Western healthcare markets that these technologies aim to address. The first is caring for an ageing population who wish to remain active and healthy. This is driving up demand within healthcare systems. The second is the desire of governments to curb spending within their healthcare budgets as greater regulatory hurdles increase the cost of getting products to market. This is placing pressure on healthcare providers to find efficiencies and cut costs wherever possible. Miniaturisation is helping solve these issues, as products become more specific, use fewer samples and lower the use of expensive reagents.

The development of microfluidics has allowed the use of volumes thousands of times smaller than a common droplet. This technology forms the basis of lab-on-a-chip devices for sensitive analytical measurements. The reduced volumes used by Lab-on-a-chip systems not only enables less reagents and samples to be used, but also decrease analysis times, as actions like heating, cooling and mixing are significantly faster than in traditional macro systems. In addition, smaller devices allow the production of cheap disposable systems, which prevent cross contamination and increase accuracy.

Lab-on-a-chip devices have received significant attention in the research community in recent years, and this has produced a large amount of intellectual property and numerous spin-out companies. One of the new areas being considered is that of moving into nanofluidics, where the surface tensions and adsorption issues are extremely challenging.

The ultimate aim is to detect disease at the cellular level at the early stages, before the disease requires costly treatment. An example to be showcased at the Nano4Life conference is the use of nano and micro technology by Sphere Medical to produce micro analysers in closed loop systems within the critical care setting. These aim to decrease mortality in the critical care setting by closely monitoring patients and enabling rapid, automatic responses to changes in clinical measurements.

Another area of diagnostics to be discussed during Nano4Life is being researched at the University of Glasgow. Here Prof. Jon Cooper is looking at systems which can be integrated into a ‘lab-on-a-pill'. This device is being designed to be swallowed by the patient and provide diagnostic information as it travels through the digestive tract. Such systems require the development of new miniaturised power sources, imaging and detection systems. Another major consideration is how to reliably transmit and receive communications from such low power devices, especially from implanted and internalised devices, as low power signals do not pass through tissue easily.

MNT is also being adopted in the development of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology products. Use of miniaturised assay systems, similar to those used for diagnostics, are enabling greater throughput in screening, decreasing the use of expensive reagents and speeding the discovery process. Work by Dr Rachel McKendry's group at the London Centre for Nanotechnology has shown that the use of microcantilevers for measuring drug binding can provide greater details on the mechanism of action for antibiotics. In addition, the use of nano-scale particles in the formulation of drugs has decreased toxicity and increased the efficacy of drugs. Both UK-based large pharmaceutical companies, AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline, will be presenting their views of nanotechnology at Nano4Life.

The question of which specific technology will be adopted and, with regards to diagnostics, which of these systems will produce the information clinicians and patients truly need and therefore which become successful and make it into the market is yet to be answered. One thing is for sure; micro and nanotechnologies are needed to help solve the issues healthcare systems face around the world. The Nano4Life conference is going to explore these opportunities and how companies and entrepreneurs can become part of the solutions doctors, payers and patients are looking for.

Key activities for the NanoKTN in the first quarter of 2009, as well as the Nano4Life event, include two other major conferences, Nano4Energy and Nano Micro Systems.

The Nano4Energy conference will take place on 4th March at the East Midlands Conference Centre in Nottingham and is supported by the Carbon Trust. The conference will focus on the exploitation of nano-enabled clean energy generation, storage and conversion technologies and feature presentations from Carbon Trust, Low Carbon Vehicle Programme, Nanotecture, Plasmaquest, Oxford Surfaces, ACAL Energy and the Technology Strategy Board.

The Nano Micro Systems focus group was set up at the end of 2008 as part of a strategic partnership between the Joint Equipment and Materials Initiative (JEMI UK). The Nano Micro Systems focus group aims to evaluate the issues of the supply chain for the Nanotechnology sector looking to supply into the Nanoelectronics, MEMS and other related high-emerging hi-tech sectors.

For further information on the NanoKTN and its activities, please visit or contact

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