Technology that can determine the concentration of nanomaterials in living
tissue has been licensed by The
University of Texas at Austin to Houston-based nanoTox Inc.
The technology comes from the laboratory of Dr. James Tunnell, an assistant
professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the Cockrell School
of Engineering. Tunnell's lab focuses on developing minimally invasive optical
technologies for the detection, diagnosis and treatment of disease, particularly
for application to cancer screening and therapeutics.
Nanoparticles are pure chemical or molecular materials smaller than one-tenth
of a micrometer that are increasingly being used in a variety of applications,
including medical devices, medicines and cosmetics.
In developing safe and effective products, one concern is knowing what becomes
of nanoparticles applied or administered to the body. For example, nanoparticles
designed to concentrate in certain locations such as tumor tissue for diagnostic
or therapeutic purposes must not accumulate in other healthy tissues where they
might cause harm such as the brain, heart, liver or kidneys.
Tunnell's tool, which employs optical spectroscopy, provides a non-invasive
way for companies who use nanoparticles in their products to tell whether those
particles remain in tissue or have been flushed out.
"This uses an optical fiber that you just place in contact with the tissue
and the light makes a measurement in a non-invasive way," Tunnell said.
The current method for measuring nanoparticles at diagnostic or therapeutic
concentrations in tissue typically involves the administration of radioisotopes
or invasive procedures requiring a biopsy followed by time-consuming and costly
examination using specialized forms of electron microscopy, X-ray analysis or
nuclear chemical analysis in some cases.
"Dr. Tunnell has created a very minimally invasive technique to detect
nanoparticles in tissue relatively simply and economically," said Greg
King, vice president and chief operating officer of nanoTox®.
As a detection tool, it "will answer a lot of questions that government
agencies and consumers are asking about nanomaterials," Harry Bushong,
the company's president, said.
The license grants nanoTox® exclusive worldwide rights to the technology
which includes the development of medical diagnostic applications. The company
also plans to further develop the technology for other uses such as the nanotechnology
Nanotox has laboratory and research operations in Austin.
The company's chief scientific officer, Dr. David Hobson, said that working
with Tunnell and his laboratory staff should lead to the development of this
promising technology into a valuable tool for medical and nanotechnology safety
Understanding the risks from exposure to nanomaterials helps to satisfy international
product liability insurers that support the development of beneficial applications
The company's scientists consult with engineers, chemists and other nanomaterial
developers to identify and either eliminate or reduce significant toxicity found
in a nanomaterial, thereby improving the safety of nanomaterials for customers,
employees and the environment.