Brussels, 14 Aug 2003
As discussions regarding the potential applications of nanotechnology become more frequent, research results from around Europe are bringing some of these possibilities to life.
German researchers have announced their development of a nanofilter capable of removing toxins from blood, while a UK-Italian partnership has succeeded in building the first nanomotor.
The nanofilter, made from hollow fibre membranes, removes specific toxins from blood quickly. The pores in the walls of the hollow fibres, themselves only nanometres thick, allow only contaminated blood plasma through. A consortium involving the company Gambro Dialysatoren, the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft and the University of Stuttgart is preparing to conduct the first clinical trials using the new filter. Initial tests will be carried out on patients with septicaemia, while later trials will attempt to remove cholesterol and proteins responsible for autoimmune diseases. This new filter is expected to make dialysis significantly faster and less expensive.
Chemists from the universities of Edinburgh and Bologna have meanwhile created the first molecular motor. The machine is around one billion times smaller than a car's motor, and was developed using hydrogen bonds.
Two bonds were threaded onto a loop one millionth of a millimetre across. The small rings were made to move around the big ring by illuminating them with light of different wavelengths, fuelling chemical reactions that break hydrogen bonds. The presence of each small ring allows the other to move in only one direction, and when both rings move in that direction, a light-driven directional rotary motor is created.
'I'm absolutely sure that molecular-level machines will be made and the rotary motor we've made is a prototype for how those machines may well be driven,' Professor David Leigh told the journal Nature. 'The first kinds of applications are likely to be 'switchable' surfaces - materials that change their properties in response to specific signals, but possible applications are probably a few years off yet, as we've yet to work out how to 'wire' the molecular machines to the outside world.'