Major EU-funded nanotechnology
tools for improving disease detection
genetic testing for diagnosing cystic fibrosis is available, it is expensive
and time-consuming. Improved diagnostic systems are now being developed
which will mean that defective genes can be detected more quickly and
at a lower cost. These tests will be validated using the cystic fibrosis
gene, but will have potential applications for any genetic disease.
Cystic fibrosis is the most common hereditary disease in Europe. People
suffering from the disease have a defective gene - both parents must
have the gene defect to pass it on to their offspring. The disease manifests
itself in the lungs, and patients suffer from repeated cases of pneumonia
and breathing difficulties, as well as a shortened life expectancy.
presence was one reason cystic fibrosis was chosen as a model system
in a recent EU project to prove the validity of new molecular diagnostic
tools for genetic testing. 'Development of high-throughput PNA-based
molecular diagnostic systems' is the name of a project in the 'Quality
of Life and Management of Living Resources' Programme, part of the
European Commission's Fifth Framework Programme.
the main reason for using the cystic fibrosis gene in this study is
because it is large gene which can have more than 800 defects - mutations
or variations - giving medical testing laboratories the daunting task
of continually having to ascertain which ones, if any, are present.
Current commercial methods can only detect about 30 known mutations.
Sophisticated methods can, of course, detect them all, but are labour
intensive, expensive and not suitable for routine use.
impact and results
Genetic probes can be used to discover if a person has a mutation on
a known gene. The probes are first labelled so that they can be readily
detected and can attach themselves to the sample of DNA under investigation
in places where the DNA sequence is complementary, such as a particular
gene mutation. In this way, the presence of a defective gene can be
project will exploit the inherent advantages of a new kind of probe,
PNA or peptide nucleic acid which is a laboratory-created model of DNA
invented in Europe in the early 1990s. It is a piece of DNA that can
bind to DNA and, because of the nature of its neutrally charged chemical
backbone, this bond (PNA-DNA) is stronger than the DNA-DNA bond with
normal probes. The project aims to build two new diagnostic systems
for genetic testing based on: PNA probes arranged in a microarray (or
DNA chip) format, and improved capillary electrophoresis - a separation
technique in which different biomolecules move at different speeds through
an electrically charged capillary tube.
PNA probes will mean that the test will be more sensitive and able to
detect 50 to 100 mutations at any one time. A microarry or DNA array
allows between 200 and 1 000 tests to be carried out simultaneously.
systems will be produced and commercialised. They will have a very high
throughput, testing many samples, all at the same time, very efficiently
and accurately. They will also be fully automated diagnostic systems.
If successful, the method has a very many potential applications and
will be valuable in developing a test for any genetic disease where
both the mutations and the causes are known.
There are six partners from four European countries: three from academia
and three from industry. To achieve the project's objectives, participants
with complementary expertise will work together, sharing their skills
and know-how. The university research hospital, the Hôpital Henri
Mondor (France) will develop the molecular diagnostic probes which,
as microarrays, will be linked to glass slide supports by new coatings
developed by the research institute, the Institute of Biocatalysis and
Molecular Recognition (Italy). The research centre, the Max-Planck-Institut
für Molekulare Genetik (Germany) will help design the improved
capillary electrophoresis system for separating the mutations.
Srl (Italy) will develop new labels and dyes to detect the mutations.
MEDWAY SA (Switzerland)
will design the robotics and scanner (analysis) systems to fully automate
the tests. IMSTAR
(France) will provide the information imaging software and systems to
complete the new diagnostic systems.
Hôpital Henri Mondor
94010 Créteil, France
Tel: +33 1 4081 2861 - Fax: +33 1 4981 2219
Non-stick or sticky medical devices
the mechanism that makes human cells stick to other surfaces could help
to produce better medical devices. Nanostructures could form novel biomaterial
coatings either to prevent cells from binding to surfaces - for instance,
to prevent blood clotting - or to improve their adhesion and biocompatibility
for repairing skin and other damaged tissues.
The living cells of the human body are very complex, and many of the
effects of interactions or coupling of cells are presently unknown.
In such biological systems, cells are able to stick to other surfaces.
The degree of adhesion depends on both the structure of the material's
surface at the nanoscale and on the characteristics of the cells. A
new EU project has been initiated to explore this matter further and
to study in greater depth the properties of cell-surface interfaces
so as to bring together a number of isolated phenomena into a coherent
theory to explain this adhesion mechanism. The 'Nanobiotechnology and
medicine' project applies nanotechnology to biology in the 'Quality
of Life and Management of Living Resources' programme, part of European
Commission's Fifth Framework Programme.
impact and results
The project aims to produce new materials, through the nanostructuring
of surfaces, with improved surface properties. Examples of such include
better biocompatibility for application in the field of biomedical devices
for common medical procedures and treatments (such as the transport
of blood and removal of other body fluids via catheters) and for the
production of improved biomaterials for use in tissue engineering and
currently fabricate nanostructures by using a printing process - electron-beam
lithography - to print a surface pattern, which is a slow and expensive
method. The 13-partner strong project team will examine three different
nanofabrication methods for patterning surfaces to find the best and
most economically viable alternative.
processes will be employed: 1) replicas of electron-beam lithographic
masters will be used to transfer the pattern on to a surface by means
of a 'stamping' or embossing technique whereby the pattern can be repeatedly
transferred or coated on to materials such as polymers; 2) nanoparticles
can be deposited precisely on to the surface to produce nanostructures
instantly - these can then either be used as points of attachment or
as a means of imparting low adhesion according to dimensions and shape;
and 3) molten mixtures of polymers can separate out on cooling to produce
nanostructures. These isolated and tiny polymer 'islands', where one
polymer stands proud on the surface of the other, are evenly spaced
and structured to form a nanostructure.
nanotechnology to this area of biotechnology is of particular value
for biomedical applications - devising ways to prevent cells from binding
to a surface is an important feature of many medical devices. Here,
a low adhesion component is required for hollow devices used to transport
biological fluids such as blood and urine, either to prevent clotting
of the blood as it passes through the tube, bacterial contamination,
or to stop the tube becoming overgrown with cells.
important medical applications for low adhesion biomaterials involve
preventing damaged tissue from sticking to other tissue surfaces - for
example, after an abdominal operation such as an appendectomy. These
surgical interventions can produce a lot of unnecessary post-operative
pain when the tissues sticking together are torn apart by the patient's
movements. The risk of having such post-operative pain can be reduced
significantly if tissue adhesion is restricted by applying a biodegradable
surface coating to the damaged tissue or organ.
these coatings are also invaluable in situations where high adhesion
is required to help surfaces and tissues stick together while the body
heals itself. Examples include tissue repair devices (such as skin reconstruction)
to enable solid tissue to bind together at the wound site while it heals
or is repaired using a biodegradable scaffold (tissue engineering).
Here, the nanostructured biomaterial would form the sticky surface that
could bind itself to skin, muscles and other body tissues.
Five EU countries are participating in the project, which involves 13
partners including nine universities and four SMEs. The universities
of Glasgow, Bari, Gothenburg, Stockholm and Strathclyde will carry out
various methods of nanofabrication to produce the biomaterials. The
universities of Glasgow, Ancona and Siena will study the adhesion and
reaction of these new nanomaterials to human cells. While the University
of Bologna and the industrial companies Advanced
Medical Solutions (UK), Saxonia
Medical (Germany), Ergo sp (Greece) and Bellco
Spa (Italy) will test their biocompatibility in human tissue situations
with a view to their exploitation in medical devices.
Prof. Adam Curtis
Centre for Cell Engineering, University of Glasgow
University Avenue, Glasgow G12 8QQ, Scotland
Tel: +44 141 330 5147 - Fax: +44 141 330 3730
Hôpital Henri Mondor
94010 Créteil, France
Tel: +33 1 4081 2861
Fax: +33 1 4981 2219
Taking the first step to a biomolecule chip
could ensure the future progress and success of the semi-conductor industry.
Using the principles found in nature, production of nanoscale electronic
devices for computer chips can be both simplified and made cheaper. This
EU research project aims to provide a better understanding of the basic
technology involved, and then to develop the tools required for making
electronic components by self-assembly.
Computer chips have doubled their processing power every year since
the 1970s (Moore's Law). More and more electronic components are being
put into an ever-decreasing area. Eventually, this trend in miniaturisation
will reach its current physical limits and come to an end. Looking to
the future, the semi-conductor industry will need a new 'small' technology
- nanotechnology - if it is to continue the exponential progress.
is the best example of how to construct nanosize devices. Biological
systems operate in the nano-world and rely on self-organisation and
self-assembly. Thus biomolecules would provide an ideal tool for the
pre-programmed self-assembly of nanoscale electronic devices. 'Biomolecule
driven assembly of nanoparticle based electronic devices' or BIOAND
is a 'Nanotechnology Information Devices' project in the Information
Society Technologies programme of the European Commission's Fifth
Framework Programme. Rather than fabricate molecular electronic devices,
BIOAND will lay the groundwork for this by developing the necessary
tools and the basic technology.
impact and results
The project's main aim is to develop self-assembly technology from a
bottom-up approach (starting with atoms or molecules) to provide tools
for the self-assembly of electronic devices. Metal and semi-conducting
nanoparticles will serve as functional units and will be placed at a
pre-programmed position on a silicon substrate. Depending on the material
properties, the chemically synthesised nanoparticles exhibit different
types of electronic properties, e.g. resonant tunnelling effects or
single electron blocking behaviour. Crucial to the development of the
bottom-up fabrication of nanoelectronic devices is the ability to self-assemble
nano-nano interconnects and to connect them to the macroscopic world.
For these key challenges different technological approaches are under
way including the reproducible formation of nanowires and the use of
dendrimeric structures. Similarly, self-assembled nanoparticle arrays
using S-layer proteins will be studied as a biomolecular template. Finally,
the potential of self-assembly will be shown with three demonstrators,
namely a single nanoparticle demonstrator, two closely spaced independently
connected nanoparticles, and an array of nanoparticles.
conventional microelectronics use complex lithography procedures in
a top-down approach to print an image on the surface of a silicon wafer
and step by step to construct a device. In the future this could be
replaced by a bottom-up approach constructing complete information processing
units by self-assembled or self-organised functional nanostructures.
This new technology would not only provide a quantum leap in the further
miniaturisation of electronic circuits, but could also make a breakthrough
in developing a simpler (and much cheaper) production technology.
chip made from molecular electronic devices produced by self-assembly
is the long-term goal. The results of this project will provide the
first significant step towards this objective - the basic technology
and the necessary tools.
Researchers in the fields of biotechnology, chemistry, material science
and microelectronics have pooled their experience and expertise to work
in a cross-disciplinary approach on the project. There are six partners
from four countries: four universities, one microelectronics research
centre and one large electronics company. The Consejo
Superior de Investigaciones Científicas - Barcelona (Spain)
specialises in pure and applied chemistry and will provide parts of
the lock and key technologies being used. The self-assembly technologies
will be developed at Sony
International (Europe) GmbH (Germany), the Universität Hamburg,
the National University of Ireland - Dublin, and the Zentrum
für Ultrastrukturforschung - Universität für Bodenkultur
Wien (Austria). The S-layer technology is being developed at the
Zentrum für Ultrastrukturforschung, and particle synthesis is carried
out at Sony International (Europe) GmbH.
Hamburg and the National University of Ireland - Dublin. The National
Microelectronics Research Centre (University College Cork, Ireland)
will provide expertise in the characterisation of electronic components
and develop smart electrical test structures and theoretical modelling
charge transport through nanoparticles-molecular interfaces.
Sony International (Europe) GmbH
Hedelfinger Strasse 61, 70327 Stuttgart, Germany
Tel: +49 711 5858 572 - Fax: +49 711 5858 484
Counting on a molecule
could provide the solution to current limitations in reducing the size
of computer chips. However, before devices such as molecule-sized transistors
can be used to build a much smaller and faster chip, their electronic
and mechanical behaviour needs to be studied further and better understood.
Since the invention of the transistor, and the subsequent integration
of all electronic components in a single 'chip', efforts to miniaturise
these devices have been ongoing. Eventually, features of electronic
circuits will become so small that the top-down approach of nanofabrication
will be both impractical and very expensive. The solution could be molecular
electronic devices. These would make use of a the bottom-up approach
where large molecular structures are synthesised from atomic or molecular
entitled 'Bottom-up Nanomachines' or BUN is based on a successful 'Nanotechnology
Information Devices' project (Nanowires) which examined the fabrication
and properties of wires down to the molecular dimension. The new project,
which is part of the Information
Society Technologies programme in the European Commission's Fifth
Framework Programme, will study the electronic and mechanical properties
of single molecules in order to develop a Single Molecular Device (SMD)
as an electronic component and later intramolecular circuits as a nanomachine.
impact and results
BUN explores the possibilities of synthesising and assembling a computing
nanomachine from a bottom-up approach: it will design and test molecular
devices and circuits so as to find appropriate molecular systems for
building an information-processing machine.
specific conditions electrons can travel along a molecular wire by quantum
tunnelling. Based on this physical principle, a molecule-equivalent
to the transistor will be designed, tested and integrated within electronic
circuits. Fabrication processes will be developed for the metallic interconnections
- the wires that connect each component - and for the techniques required
to produce and to position the molecular devices precisely on the circuit.
of novel electronic devices will be built. The first, involving a hybrid
of nanotechnology and microelectronics technologies, comprises one single
molecule per transistor within a "traditional electrical circuit
surrounding". The molecule's regular pattern is generated by self-assembly
or self-organisation - where the molecule spontaneously organises within
the surrounding structure. The circuit connections or wiring will be
made by using either metallic nanowires or carbon nanotubes to transport
a hybrid device the functional molecule must first be produced and then
associated to other devices to complete the circuit. An individual planar
hybrid molecular transistor has been demonstrated but, as might be expected
with such a novel device, its performance is not yet optimal for circuit
applications. In addition, a major problem concerns how a whole circuit
should be put together to ensure that it has the correct electrical
multiple interconnections or fan-out to design complex logic circuits.
obtained by exploring these architecture problems with those first hybrid
molecular devices will be also useful for designing the second "mono-molecular"
type. This will be a single molecular device in which all the electronic
functions are to be integrated within just one large molecule, to reduce
the number of connections and the amount of nanofabrication required.
Here the molecular design - and its synthesis - is as important as the
the project, nanofabrication techniques involving Scanning Tunnelling
Microscopy and Atomic Force Microscopy, in combination with new nanolithography
techniques, will be employed and developed. They will then be used to
manipulate this single supramolecule on an insulating surface in an
effort to achieve a better understanding of both its intramolecular
mechanical and electrical behaviour when interconnected to multiple
nanoscale connection areas or nanopads.
There are seven research groups from six European countries participating
in the project. The molecular design, chemical synthesis, molecular
imaging and testing of the hybrid transistor and circuits are being
carried out by CNRS
(CEMES and LPPM) (France), Christian-Albrechts-Universität (Germany),
University of Aarhus (Denmark) and the University of Cambridge and University
College London, both in the United Kingdom. IBM
(Switzerland) will provide circuit and processor architecture expertise
together with the study of intramolecular circuits on a single molecule
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique - CEMES
29 Rue Jeanne Marvig, 31055 Toulouse, France
Tel: + 33 5 62 25 78 35 - Fax: + 33 5 62 25 79 99
Shaping carbon to be more reactive
surface area of carbon can be made much greater and nearly 100% active
through nanofabrication. The resulting cheaper and more efficient nanomaterials
can be used in energy storage applications such as super-capacitors, batteries
and fuel cells for electrical cars.
Carbon has been used as an electrode in battery systems for many years.
Carbon electrodes rely on the high internal surface area of porous carbon.
However, most (over 90%) of the surface is ineffective and does not
support electrochemical reactions. In contrast, carbon nanostructures
- such as nanotubes which are long, thin and capped cylinders of interlinked
carbon atoms - have a more controllable porosity and can give a fully
active surface area up to 3 000 m2/g, which is 10 to 100 times that
of the current carbon (graphite-like) material in use.
'Growth Programme' project entitled 'Carbon nanostructures and nanotubes
for energy storage, electrochemistry and field emission applications'
is being carried out under the European Commission's Fifth Framework
Programme. It will develop an industrial-scale manufacturing system
for carbon films with huge surface areas and promote specific applications
in short and long-term energy storage.
impact and results
The carbon nanostructures will be produced using the arc process. During
the cluster-assembly vacuum technique an electric arc is discharged
between two carbon rods in an inert atmosphere and a carrier gas is
blown through the arc. Clusters of carbon atoms come off in balls of
100 atoms, are carried by the gas, and land on a cold surface where
they condense. They then grow into 'fluffy' poles known as carbon nanotubes.
The project objectives include controlling the surface area of carbon
nanostructures and embedding them in polymer films to give very high
useful surface areas for electrochemical processes. An industrial production
technology will be developed by scaling-up the existing small-scale
methodology to large-scale production and industrial scale.
films will be used to make super-capacitors with high energy and power
densities, for use in electric vehicles including electric trains. All
electric trains have a heavy-duty capacitor - a super-capacitor to control
their speed. Storing the electrical charge on the surface of the carbon
can reduce the size and weight of this capacitor. The existing market
for super-capacitors in electric trains is around 20 million euro annually,
while the market for capacitors in electric vehicles could amount to
250 euro per car, totalling in the region of 100 million euro annually,
once various technical problems have been overcome.
The nanostructured carbon will also be developed into efficient electrode
materials to improve electrochemical reactivity. These electrodes will
be used in a unique regenerative fuel cell (RFC) technology for bulk
electricity storage which can be used in electricity generating plants
to increase their efficiency and hence minimise use of resources and
emission of pollutants. The long-term market in Europe for bulk storage
is massive at about 60 billion euro annually.
The first carbon nanostructures have now been produced and their suitability
as super-capacitors is being tested.
The project brings together six partners from three EU countries. The
consortium involves three universities: Milan University (Italy) will
optimise the synthetic routes for carbon nanomaterials; the University
of Fribourg will make nanomats from the tubes and guide the scale-up
of the coating system; and Cambridge University will characterise the
carbon structures and develop their applications. In addition, there
are three companies: National Power (United Kingdom), a large electricity
generating utility, will develop and test the carbon films as electrode
materials for energy storage; Montena Components (Switzerland), a medium-sized
manufacturer of capacitors, will develop super-capacitors using nanostructured
carbon; and an SME, Microcoat,
which manufactures vacuum-coating systems, will build an industrial-scale
coating system for the carbon nanomaterials.
Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge
Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 IPZ, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 1223 3332 689 - Fax: +44 1223 332 662
polymer holes into metal shields
nanosized holes in polymer membranes with various combinations of metals
or with other polymers can produce nanocomposite materials with tailor-made
electrical, magnetic or chemical properties. Such materials can be used
as screening materials for shielding microwave ovens and mobile phones,
or as the active sensing material in 'artificial noses' and 'lab-on-a-chip'
Nanocomposites are materials which consist of a host material (in this
case a polymer) in which a nanosized filler component is dispersed.
The filler may be another polymer, a metal, or a magnetic material,
etc. The enormous choice of combinations of host and filler materials
offers real potential in obtaining novel composite materials with unique
and tailored properties.
European Union project developed methods for producing polymer membranes
containing metal nanostructures as fillers. These results will be followed
up in a new Growth Programme project which has been initiated under
the Commission's Fifth Framework Programme. Entitled 'Conductive nanowires
for applications in microwave, magnetic and chemical sensing devices
based on polymer track-etched templates', it will study new nanocomposites
and develop specific applications for these novel materials.
impact and results
The production of these materials starts with the bombardment of a polymer
sheet with energetic heavy ions, accelerated by a cyclotron. The heavy
ions pass through the sheet and leave miniscule damage tracks. By chemical
etching, these tracks are turned into holes with diameters in the 10
to 100 nanometer range. These polymer membranes can now be made with
a well-controlled pore size and shape in the form of regular, periodic
arrays. The polymer sheets with nanosized holes are used for filtration,
and are currently utilised in the ultra-filtration market as molecular
filters for biological applications such as water purification.
production step is to fill the nanosized holes with organic or inorganic
material, such as a different polymer or a metal. This is done by electrochemical
deposition. For example, an electrically conductive polymer may be deposited
to obtain nanotubules with enhanced conductivity. Filling the nanoholes
with a magnetic material such as iron, cobalt or nickel - or a combination
of these metals - produces membranes with unique magnetic properties.
During this project, various combinations of polymers and metals will
be tried in various host polymers.
of the membranes with filled holes depends on the nature of the filler.
Fillers involving magnetic metals have potential in the area of magnetic
data storage, for example for hard disks. Other metallic fillers lead
to materials with strong selective absorption for certain wavelengths
of electro-magnetic radiation. These may be used for the shielding of
microwave ovens or mobile telephones. Fillers of electrically conductive
polymers may be employed in the production of the sensing elements of
chemical detectors. They may be used in 'electronic noses', or in miniaturised
'lab-on-chip' systems, for example for the detection of biochemical
The project team comprises six partners from four countries: two universities,
one research centre and two companies has brought together theoretical
and applied physicists, chemists and biologists from academia and industry.
The Université Louis Pasteur and CNRS-Orsay
(both in France) will provide the expertise in theoretical physics and
magnetism. The preparation of the membranes and nanocomposites, and
their characterisation, will be carried out by the Université
Catholique de Louvain (Belgium) which, along with the Institut für
Polymerforchung Dresden (Germany), supplied the polymer science and
technology knowledge. Epigem
(United Kingdom) and Thomson
CSF (France) will study the wide range of potential applications
of these novel materials: filters, magnetic storage, shielding, and
Université Catholique de Louvain - POLY- PCPM
Croix du Sud 1, 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
Tel: +32 10 473 562 - Fax: +32 10 451 593