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The research vision of this $12.9M award from the National Science Foundation is to revolutionize medical diagnosis and treatment by establishing non-cleanroom, affordable, environmentally and biologically benign nanoengineering techniques. Such techniques use biocompatible polymers, biomolecules, and nanoparticles as building blocks as a mechanism to design, synthesize, and fabricate biomedical and therapeutic devices.
The near-term goal is to design and fabricate polymer-based, 3D nanofluidic circuits for manipulating the shape, orientation and transport behavior of individual biomolecules in well-defined nanoscale flow fields (5-100 nm). Such novel circuits will offer a controlled, yet dynamic environment for both biomedical diagnostics and molecular transport in therapeutic processes, resulting in significant improvements over existing methods. Testbed examples include a simple, handheld protein separation/diagnostic device; an electro-osmotic-flow-based “four-roll-mill” for high-speed dynamic hybridization and complexation; a nanoneedle cell patch for low-invasive delivery of genes and macromolecular medicines into cell walls; and biomolecular nanopumps as synthetic ion channels.
The ultimate goal is to design and assemble a nanofactory based on the integration of nanofluidic circuits, synthetic chemistry and biological complexation. Nanofluidics in conjunction with externally tunable surface forces at the nanoscale will be used to overcome the Brownian motion and relaxation forces of biomolecules and nanoparticles. In that way, they can be caged in the fluid or near the solid surface with a desirable shape and orientation and moved along a pre-specified “assembly line.” Together with synthetic chemistry and biological complexation, this nanofactory platform will allow for the continuous production of well-defined, multifunctional 3D biomimetic nanostructures and devices through polymer-biomolecule and polymer-nanoparticle-biomolecule conjugation. Such biologically active nanoscale structures and devices may greatly enhance clinical realization of treatment of cancers, chronic infections, parasitological and central nervous diseases, and vaccine delivery.