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commercializing nano - 2003 Nature Publishing Group...

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FEATURE FOCUS ON NANOBIOTECHNOLOGY Nanotechnology has been showcased and revisited a number of times over the past decade, with each pass hinting at the promise of a revolutionary, ubiquitous technology. The editors of Science magazine fell under its spell in 2001, when they declared nanoelec- tronic circuits the breakthrough of the year 1 . Today, nanotechnology does have solid com- mercial prospects, but much of the media buzz is pure speculation, and most recent advances are closer to nanoscience than nan- otechnology. Though commercial nanotechnology is still in its infancy, the rate of technology enablement is increasing, in no small part as a result of the substantial government-man- dated funds that have been directed toward nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is also receiving particular attention in academia, where new programs are being designed to accelerate the rate of innovation through interdisciplinary working teams ( Table 1 ). This article presents an overview of some of the early commercial efforts using nanotech- nology in the life sciences (loosely termed nanobiotechnology). The earliest products applied tools from microscopy and microflu- idics to manipulate materials at the nanome- ter scale ( Fig. 1 ). These are being followed to the market by systems that use nanomaterials as molecular tags ( e.g. , quantum dots), com- posite materials ( e.g. , peptide-lipid assem- blies) and biosensors ( e.g. , carbon nanotube arrays). Though several years further from commercialization, products using nanos- tructured materials for drug delivery and tis- sue engineering are approaching the clinical testing phase. Farthest out on the commercial horizon are integrated nanoelectronic devices, which promise intriguing health-care applications such as implantable sensors that monitor and respond to health status. (More general information on nanotechnology can be obtained from the National Nanotechnology Initiative’s (NNI) website: http://www.nano.gov/.) Challenges to commercialization Along the path to commercialization, nan- otechnology’s biggest liability is its novelty. Inventions often attract attention because of their ingenuity, but a product must also be useful and compelling. Although most people can imagine how nanotechnology could transform personal medicine, the reality is that nanotechnology is years from being able to fulfill that demand. A more realistic goal would be to identify a market for the tools that nanotechnology can provide today. The first step to product development is positioning the technology—what is nan- otechnology’s competitive edge? There is no simple answer to this question because of the enormous breadth of devices that can be built from nanoscale materials. Methods of synthe- sis and construction differ greatly, as do the performance aspects of each system.
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