The fight against the threat of bio-terrorism received a boost today with a funding package of over £1 million being awarded to UK company Nanosight Ltd to develop a revolutionary new method of creating artificial antibodies that could offer the best early warning indicator of biological attack.
This funding package for Salisbury based NanoSight includes awards from NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) and the Department for Trade and Industry.
Current methods of detecting biological agents, whether to give rapid warning of a biological attack, or in the detection of disease before symptoms appear, currently use human and animal cells and involve taking samples to a lab for analysis. This is a slow, painstaking process that could be streamlined thanks to Nanosight's recent research breakthrough which can produce instant results without any of the problems associated with handling and storing biological samples.
Nanosight has developed a way of synthetically reproducing a working version of what happens when the human body detects a virus. It does this through fabricating artificial binding sites using computer and microelectronics technology. One of the first products Nanosight and partner Smith Detection are looking to develop with this funding is a portable detector that can be used easily in the field.
The new technique is not merely limited to biowarfare detection, and can be applied across the whole spectrum of biotechnology, dramatically speeding up drug development, reducing costs for pharmaceutical companies, and also leading to a new generation of high resolution sensors with applications from water safety to homeland security.
NanoSight has already developed a new optical device – a nanomicroscope - with groundbreaking analytical capabilities of individually seeing particles down to 10 nanometres in diameter (10 millionths of a millimeter) in real time. This technology works alongside Nanosight’s new method of creating artificial antibodies to produce a quick way of testing for suspected viruses away from the confines of the lab.
The nanomicroscope allows individual particles 100 times smaller than bacteria to be seen directly and immediately through a conventional optical microscope. Up to now this has not been possible in real time and the only alternatives were very expensive and slow electron microscopes which require a great deal of complex preparation.
Mark White, NESTA Invention and Innovation Director, said: “Nanotechnology has sparked a lot of controversy in the media lately. However, we are delighted to be investing in this groundbreaking idea which applies the technology to areas that could have huge social benefits, such as defence against the ever-growing threat of bio-terrorism. As nanotechnology becomes ubiquitous, Nanosight’s window on the nanoworld will become as common as the optical microscope, at a comparable price.”
Jeremy Warren, Chief Executive of Nanosight Ltd, said: “We are already seeing the application of nanoparticles from cosmetics to the paint on a Mercedes Benz, and from inks to textiles. NanoSight is the only company to produce systems capable of real time nanoparticle detection, whether for environmental monitoring or quality control. The combination of the current products with the synthetic mimetic binding sites allows the company to also become a leading player in biodetection.”