From medical implants to new drug treatments, nanotechnology is the big hope for the future of healthcare but how to manufacture and scale up the production of nanoparticles and nanocomposites from an engineering point of view remains a major challenge. Scientists at The University of Nottingham believe that they could transform the global healthcare industry and have recently won a £1.2 million grant for research into the engineering of nanomaterials. While nanotechnology is already being used in the healthcare sector, for instance in fabrics with silver nanoparticle coatings for an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal effect, this new research aims to develop a way to produce medical polymer-based nanocomposites for use as surgical implants that eventually break down, being absorbed safely by the body when they have done their job. In this way they could replace metal implants in bone surgery, for example.
The project has been awarded this significant funding by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and will run for four years from October 2012. By the end, the researchers expect to be able to manufacture demonstration models so the research can progress to the clinical trials stage. Specific challenges in nanotechnology that the new research will tackle include:
- How to produce nanoparticles of consistent size and shape. Award-winning University spin-out company Promethean Particles will use its unique method of manufacturing nanoparticles suspended in water to achieve this, including new nanoparticles of a material similar to the mineral component of bone for use in orthopaedics.
- How to control the degradation of the nanocomposite. Researchers will work with industry partners who are experts in the manufacture of degradable polymers and composites for medical use.
- How to scale up manufacture to commercially-viable industry levels. Few laboratory nanocomposites have been translated into real products because of difficulties in ensuring consistency of quality in mass production. The close collaboration with several industry partners will ensure scaleability will be achievable from the start of the design process.
The global industry partners contributing equipment and consultancy to the research project are:
Promethean Particles, Biocity, Nottingham UK: Promethean Particles possess unique hydrothermal synthesis facilities for producing large quantities of shaped nanoparticles.
Source: University of NottinghamYvonne Klöpping