Nanotechnology Center to Open in October, Researchers Detect Nanotubes in Cancer Cells

On October 11, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell makes the public debut of its $80 million Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center (ETIC). The facility consists of a cutting-edge, four-story, 84,000-square-foot building that will house nanotechnology programs in plastics engineering, biomedicine, elect-optics, biomaterials and other fast-developing fields. The center also contains a state-of-the-art plastics-processing high bay, engineering-lab and wet-lab spaces and a trio of high-tech clean rooms — Class 100, Class 1000, and Class 10,000, for nano-manufacturing of semiconductors and biopharmaceuticals.

Nanotechnology describes the materials, applications and processes used to manipulate and engineer structures on microscopic scales of 1 to 100 nanometers (NM), according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI).

Researchers have the ability to make lighter, harder and more durable materials so small that it requires a magnification of ten million times for detection by the human eye. Nanotechnology has changed the landscape of basic research in a variety of fields, including material science, biological science, information technology, energy sources and environmental sciences.

Besides the invention of the scanning tunneling microscope (STM), which made the manipulation of individual atoms possible, the discovery of black fiber-like material (1991) called carbon nanotubes (CNT) by Japanese researcher Sumio Iijima  has driven nanotechnology research for the past two decades.

Nanotubes consist of closed pipe-shaped materials made of crystallized carbon. The material can reach a length of several microns (less than four inches) and diameters from 1nm to 60nm. The physical-chemical properties of CNTs, including electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity, mechanical performance and adsorption, make the material a possible solution for a wide range of applications.

When bonded in short chains, carbon takes on the properties of gas. Longer chains produce solids materials such as a plastic. Carbon that bonds   together in two or three-dimensional patterns form some of the hardest materials in the world like diamonds. Carbon atoms form strong, durable covalent bonds with most types of atoms, which portends have an unimaginable number of applications.

Ten years ago, researchers learned that super-thin tubes called tunneling nanotubes (TnTs) could grow between two cells. The nanotubes disappear once the communication exchange takes place. In 2007, an experiment confirms that TnTs facilitate the intercellular transmission of electrical signals between cells. Researchers probe a microinjection needle into one cell, which cause an indicator on the cell to light up– followed by a similar reaction on the other cell.

The characteristics of TnTs form the core of a study published in the July/August issue of Communicative and Integrative Biology, which investigates the role nanotubes play in cell-to-cell communications in cancerous cells.

After studying the characteristics  of TnTs in mesothelioma  cancer cells, researchers affiliated with the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and the University of Minnesota  have provided the “first direct evidence” of  TnTs presence  in “solid tumors.”This opens up the possibility of using TnTs as a means of delivering targeted cancer therapy to patients.

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