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Nanotechnology Is Key In Creating Battery to Power Artificial Retina

NIH Provides Multi-Million Grant to Research Team to Create National Center for the Design of Biomimetic Nanoconductors.

Several researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have recently received a five-year, $6.5 million grant awarded by the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to establish a new center, the National Center for Design of Biomimetic Nanoconductors. Under the direction of PI Eric Jakobsson, the new Center will be based at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and is designed to accelerate revolutionary ideas for use in nanomedicine. The new Center will focus on the design, model, creation, and fabrication of nanomedical devices based on natural and synthetic ion transporters. Multiple institutions in various disciplines have received the NIH grant to create the Center.

When asked about the work that will take place at the National Center for Design of Biomimetic Nanoconductors, Dr. Susan Rempe of the Computational Bioscience at Sandia National Laboratories told NWN, “We are working on the theoretical and computational side of the problem of understanding and predicting how structure relates to function in ion transporters, both natural and synthetic. Ion transporters are complex molecules that control ion movement across membranes, an essential requirement for various cell functions and for the biobattery.” She observes, “One of the major challenges in this project will be incorporating these high fidelity molecularly detailed studies into higher-level quantitative models of system behavior, where the system is an array of ion transporter molecules located in a membrane environment.”

Nanotechnology is important to advancements in nanomedicine. Dr. Rempe shares with NWN, “Nanoscale science and technology designed around ion tranporters is critical to medicine because ion transport processes underlie many diseases, including those transferred by viruses that require ion transporter function for viability, and because ion transporters exhibit specialized functions that can be harnessed to develop biomimetic and biocompatible devices for a variety of medical applications. For example, an implantable power source composed of arrays of ion transporters, the initial problem to be engaged by the Center, could be used as a biobattery to power a variety of prosthetic devices, including an artificial retina.”

While there will be several challenges along the way, “everyone is working toward the common goal of developing the science and technology of ion and fluid transport at the nanoscale to harness biomimetic function for medical applications,” notes Dr. Rempe. And their research findings and knowledge will be available to the public: “The algorithms, software, design expertise, and scientific knowledge gained through our work will be shared with the external community through workshops, seminars, conferences, and collaborations.”

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