A pair of Case Western Reserve University researchers have received a $424,000 grant from the National Science Foundation's Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation, to streamline manufacturing and assembly for two-sided nanoparticles.
Nicole Steinmetz, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, and Rigoberto Advincula, professor of macromolecular science and engineering, aim to develop processes that can be used by industry.
The engineers are focusing on Janus particles, named for the Roman god of beginnings and transitions.
These-two sided particles could carry a one-two punch of paired medicines, or a drug on one side and a dye on the other that enables doctors using an MRI to see whether the particle penetrates a tumor. Or, the engineers can mix other properties on a particle to provide unique optics for displays, convert energy from one form to another or store data.
"Many things that are discovered never move out of the lab," Steinmetz, an appointee of the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, said. "The challenge is to make complicated nanoparticles that are easily reproducible."
"We're interested in nanomanufacturing that produces a high yield," Advincula said.
To make the technology realistic for the outside world, the researchers plan to make their particles in one phase, that is, pour all their ingredients into a test tube and produce a particle with different reactive surfaces, designed to host different functions, on each side.
Steinmetz's part of the mix will produce spherical scaffolds using the cowpea mosaic virus or elongated scaffolds using tobacco mosaic virus. The shapes offer different advantages for different uses. She'll engineer the genetics to control dimensions and surface chemistry.
Advincula's ingredients will produce the reactive surfaces in the form of hyperbranching polymers.
"Typically, polymers are long single chains; we specialize in making polymer trees," Advincula said. "Each branch is a reactive group. The branches concentrate the reactive groups at one site, increasing functionality at one location."
The branches, for example, can be made to latch onto target molecules or develop into specific geometric shapes that are recognized by sensors or used to control or produce light.
The researchers believe that if they can make the processing simple and economical enough then pharmaceutical developers, electronics makers and other businesses will take advantage of the nanoparticles, producing devices that contribute to quality of life, sustainability, and technological competitiveness.