Contributed by Karen Lightman, Managing Director, MEMS Industry Group
I am back in Pittsburgh’s snowmageddon after being in sunny Houston to attend the ASME First Global Congress on NanoEngineering for Medicine and Biology (nEMB) held February 7-10, 2010. For those of you who attended MIG’s MEMS Executive Congress 2009, you’ll remember how Dr. Mauro Ferrari wowed the audience with his keynote speech on silicon as a transformational material for medicine. I came to the ASME nEMB conference at the invitation of Dr. Ferrari and his Department of Nanomedicine and Biomedical Engineering (nBME) at the University of Texas at Houston.
As Managing Director of MIG, my overall impression of the conference was that this type of conference is not yet relevant for those in the MEMS industry looking for near-term opportunities to fabricate and or supply. However, as someone who loves to learn new things and meet new people, this conference amazed me. The future potential for applying nanotech to medical diagnostics and therapeutic applications (drug delivery, surgery) is mind-blowing, awesome, and simply very cool.
“It ain’t nano unless you can back it up with math.”
Dr. Mauro Ferrari
But to quote Dr. Ferrari from his keynote speech, “It ain’t nano unless you can back it up with math.” It appeared that the premise of this conference was to connect the experimental laboratory tinkering with nanoparticles to real life engineering that is backed up by repeatability and reliability. However, the majority of the presentations I attended showed a very long term horizon with major hurdles ahead–even after you’ve proven the math. The future of a nanobeetle robot that is ingested by patients to treat disease is very far off; though it’s exciting to think of the potential.
What’s clear to me is that for the MEMS industry the potential for investment and exploration lies in some of the diagnostic bio-micromechanical devices, but not yet for therapeutic and treatment applications. The role that MEMS sensors and energy scavenging devices will play to me seems more realistic.
I was impressed with the presentations by clinicians who spoke of the “higher purpose” use of nanomedicine–that the focus of the research should always remember the patient and how it can improve the quality of life. For example, Dr. Nicholas Peppas (from UT Austin’s Medical School) spoke of the role that nanomedicine will hopefully play in improving the lives of diabetes patients by eliminating the need to inject insulin on a daily basis.
On a slightly more disturbing something note, I have say that I was completely grossed out by the gyrating nano-robot worm that was presented (in video) in the keynote of Dr. Paolo Dario from the University at Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Italy. Dr. Dario proposed that this nanorobotic worm, equipped with a micro camera, would scurry down to your colon and perform a non-invasive, non-painful colonoscopy. No thanks, Doc, I think I’ll pass on that one.
There’s still more to tell about this conference–so be on the look out for part II of this blog post coming very soon.