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A new facility is being built in Melbourne for the development of nanotechnology-based diagnostic devices. In December 2004, Nanotechnology Victoria (NanoVic), Monash University, and Swinburne University of Technology signed an agreement for jointly investing in new equipment to create nanoarrays for identifying substances in animals, humans, or the natural environment.
The nanoarrays will be able to detect target materials down to parts per billion or even less, thereby offering considerably higher sensitivity and reliability of detection for bacterial contamination, toxic materials, and diseases.
Nanoarrays and Biotechnology
Studies at the nanoscale could result in major advancements in various biological fields—such as synthesis of bio-friendly materials to prevent rejection of implants by the body, medical treatments for cancer, and the early detection of chemical warfare agents. The convergence of nanotechnology and biotechnology—at a scale of one-billionth of 1 m—has the capability to enable several new applications.
Project Funding and Prospects
Infrastructure purchase and setting up of the research team has started. The project will need nearly three years to complete and will cost $2.1 million, of which NanoVic will offer $960,000 of its Government funds. NanoVic and its associates anticipate that this will lead to innovative commercial products for Victorian companies in the next five years.
The Agreement includes building up of major infrastructure as well as three Projects on that infrastructure:
- Project A is related to the development of a nanoarray to identify phosphorylated proteins, oligonucleotides, and peptides. The primary aim of Project A will be to detect molecular markers of bovine mastitis, a major hindrance to dairy production in Victoria, for which existing detection techniques are not sufficient.
- Project B relates to the creation of a nanoarray to arrest and identify metal ions in water. This array can be employed to screen a wide range of environmental samples, like sewerage, drinking water sources, lakes, water tanks, and rivers for contamination by toxic metal ions such as chromium, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury. Each of these metal ions is a threat to health and cannot be competently detected by existing commercial methods.
- Project C is to develop a nanoarray that can be used as an assay for chosen antigens, for example, food-related pathogens. The primary aim of Project C will be to detect molecular markers of salmonella contamination in samples.
Each of the nanoarrays will be developed as a patterned polymer chip with dimensions of ca. 5 cm x 4 cm. On each chip, several ligands or compounds will be immobilized. The ligands have been created from parental compounds at Monash. Swinburne will create the polymer surface and immobilize the ligands. The role of the ligands will be to adhere to the target entities such as bacteria, antigens, and metal ions.
Once the ligands get adhered to the targets, several tests can be performed on the chip using standard analytical instrumentation/processes—such as fluorescence spectroscopy, mass spectrometry, and fluorescence labeling—to determine the entity trapped by the array.
Proposed Nanoarray Systems
The nanoarrays developed for the three projects will vary based on the number of ligands on each chip and their chemical nature. The ligands for Projects A and B will directly attach to the target, while the ligands for Project C will attach to antibodies that will adhere to target antigens.
Advantages of the Nanoarrays over Existing Technologies
Although the benefits of the nanoarrays over existing technologies are yet to be assessed quantitatively, they include:
- Efficiency: considerably lesser quantities of analyte are needed for precise measurement.
- Sensitivity: even lower target concentrations can be detected when compared to existing methods/instrumentation. The nanoarrays are also highly selective for particular targets.
- Cost: due to reduced time, lower quantities, and use of current standard equipment, nanoarray analyses are anticipated to have a reduced cost of analysis per unit.
- Reliability: nanoarray analyses can be more reliable when compared to existing techniques because of a higher signal-to-noise ratio.
- Speed: when compared to existing methods, nanoarray analyses are considerably faster since they eliminate the need to culture sample or perform other complicated pre-handling procedures. The nanoarrays are expected to detect targets within one to two hours instead of 24 to 48 hours (Projects A and C).
Moreover, for nanoarrays of Project B, various further development paths are feasible: the arrays have the ability to detect targets in samples gathered from divergent sources with considerable variation in composition. Since the arrays possibly enable cheaper, faster, and more precise analysis, they can be potentially used for monitoring and quality control devices and applications, specifically in the food industry.
The entire project started in January 2005 with the signing of the Agreement and equipment ordering. Following are the indicative timings:
- The infrastructure will be commissioned in April 2005
- Project A will start by February 2005
- Project B will start by April 2005
- Project C will start by September 2005
The entire project is split into six milestones: establishing a library and developing a prototype chip for each of Projects A, B, and C. The proof of concept is expected to be carried out in late 2006/2007. The first prototype chip will be created for Project A in September 2005, for Project B in February 2006, and for Project C in April 2006.
Contributions from NanoVic, Swinburne, and Monash
The total funding committed to the overall project by NanoVic, Swinburne, and Monash while the agreement was signed in December 2004 was $2,130,000 over a period of three years. This includes a total cash component of $1,610,000 and in-kind contributions amounting to $520,000. NanoVic has a notional equity of 45%, Monash has 32%, and Swinburne has 23%.