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Emerging Technology Report #23: September 11, 2002

BioMEMS & Biomedical Nanotech World 2002

- Conference Summary -

Global Emerging Technology Institute

The BioMEMS & Biomedical Nanotech World 2002 conference, the official meeting for the International Society for BioMEMS and Biomedical Nanotechnology (ISBBN), was recently held in Columbus, Ohio from September 6-8. The event featured experts from leading research institutes and university projects in Ohio and from around the world that specialize in the utilization of MEMS and nanotechnology in order to enhance and aid in the cutting-edge development of biotech. Supporters of the event included the Battelle Research Institute located in nearby Cleveland, Johnson & Johnson, Roche, Edison Biotechnology Center and others, including GETI.

Presentations and poster illustrations from leading researchers focused on a variety of specialized areas including the following: protein arrays, hybrid bio/artificial micro-devices, micro-arrays and biochips, biosensors, therapeutic micro/nanotechnology, bio-defense technologies, BioMEMS materials and fabrication methods, diagnostic applications, nanoprobes and molecular engineering. Some of the key issues of providing incentives for the development of the aforementioned is the issue intellectual property registration and protection, fundraising for start-up companies and commercialization strategies. A detailed introduction into the legal aspects of intellectual property protection relating to biotechnology patents was presided over by Dr. Dennis Bennet of Pharmacia Corporation. Dr. Bennet emphasized the importance of a solid strategy by scientific researchers at universities and at start-up companies to develop an effective strategy for determining the potential benefits, costs and risks associated with applying for patent protection for novel technologies in fields where competition is great and the potential value of a particular patent must be carefully evaluated.

MEMS and Nanotechnology were often cited as key enablers of 21st century medicine and next-generation drug discovery tools that are expected to lead to unprecedented breakthroughs in drug discovery methods, medical devices, and the processing of genomic information. Such technologies as microarrays were cited as a key technology because they permit researchers to assay many thousands of genes at a time in an efficient and robust manner. Their development also will lead to more applications outside of genomics, including those related to proteins, cells, tissues and even small molecules (`molecular engineering`). Since the human genome is thought to contain 30 to 40 thousand genes, the application of advanced microarray technology is hoped to lead to a microarray that could potentially be manufactured to contain a probe for every gene. Integration of current microarray technologies with advances in microfluidics and nanotech will be explored. This helps to also illustrate and define the trend of a convergence of technologies in the biotechnology area.

M.C. Roco, Senior Advisor to the National Science Foundation and perhaps the leading advocate of public support in the U.S. for nanotechnology, gave one of the key note presentations of the conference. He is one of the chief architects of the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative published earlier this year. He gave an interesting and insightful discussion on the potential of converging technologies that improve human performance by expanding human cognition and communication, improving health, and physical abilities. The term converging technologies here refers to the synergistic combination of four major 'NBIC' (Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno) provinces of science and technology, each of which is currently progressing at a rapid rate according to Mr. Roco. The provinces cited above refer to nanoscience and nanotechnology, biotechnology and biomedicine, including genetic engineering, information technology, including advanced computing and communications and cognitive science, including cognitive neuroscience. Mr. Roco discussed the `revolutionary advances` at the interfaces between previously separate fields of science and technology. The convergence of diverse technologies will be the norm and must be supported by inter-disciplinary cooperation between experts in the various fields. Some examples of his visionary goals, the fruits of the convergence, include the human cognom project, multi-modalities for the visually and hearing impaired, greatly improved medical implants, virtual reality, enhanced learning for all education levels, and supporting the genotype and human performance project.

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