December 12, 2000

Nanodevices made from biomolecules and tiny nickel propellers could usher in a new generation of ultrasmall, robotic, medical devices that administer drugs and other treatments from inside the body. In the Nov. 24 issue of Science, ONR-funded researchers at Cornell University report a successful demonstration of these hybrid nanodevices - the size of virus particles - powered by the enzyme ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, the so-called energy of cellular life. Carlo Montemagno, associate professor of biological engineering, said their research shows that "the hybrid nanodevices can be assembled, maintained, and repaired using the physiology of life." However, Montemagno cautioned that before the nanodevices can actually carry out their intended role as "nanonurses" inside living organisms, the researchers need to achieve a higher operational rate. Nanobiotechnology is a relatively new field of science that merges living systems with nonliving materials at the "nano" scale, where a nanometer equals one billionth of a meter. Eventually, the Cornell researchers would like to engineer biomolecular motors powered by photons instead of ATP. They also plan to add computational and sensing capabilities to the nanodevices, which ideally would be able to self-assemble inside human cells. The Navy funds this research for its potential applications in ultraminiaturized sensors and power sources.

Office of Naval Research

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