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Austin's Computer Gambit

Originally Published MX November/December 2001

BUSINESS PLANNING & TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT

Austin's Computer Gambit

To say that Austin, TX, has a significant talent pool in the computer industry is an understatement. Few regions can match the concentration of high-tech employment in this industry; indeed, the economic activity of Central Texas that is related to computer technology is more than 10 times the national average, according to studies done for the Austin Chamber of Commerce by ICF Kaiser Engineers (San Francisco). Unlike older high-tech regions, however, Austin’s growth in the sector remains strong, averaging 6% compound annual growth through most of the 1990s.

Virtually every major manufacturer of computers and related equipment has established facilities in the Austin area. These firms are supported by an extensive network of suppliers. Moreover, as in Silicon Valley, the semiconductor industry has developed important synergies with other industries, further leveraging the computer sector’s strength, says Susan Davenport, director of marketing for the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

Roundtable Participants

Originally Published MX November/December 2001

BUSINESS PLANNING & TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT

Bernard Collins is chairman of the Irish Medical Devices Association (Dublin, Ireland).

Martin Cronin

Martin Cronin is director of operations for Ireland’s Investment and Development Agency (IDA; Dublin), which is responsible for the promotion of foreign direct investment in Ireland. Prior to becoming IDA’s director of operations in 1994, Cronin was manager of the agency’s electronics division. He has held positions with Tinsley Wire, GE, and the Electricity Supply Board of Ireland. Cronin is also a member of the industrial advisory board for the National Microelectronics Research Centre (Cork, Ireland).

Mary Harney

Mary Harney is vice premier, tánaiste, and minister of the Irish Department of Enterprise, Trade, and Employment (Dublin). Minister Harney was appointed to that position in 1997. She previously served as Irish minister for environmental protection and has held several prestigious titles, including being named Irish Independent

Creating Nanotubes as Strong as Diamonds

Originally Published MDDI November 2001

R&D DIGEST

A monthly review of new technologies and medical device innovations

THIS MONTH: Creating Nanotubes as Strong as Diamonds |Devices Synthesized from Artificial Molecules | New Technologies Aid Nanostructure Development | Unconventional Gluing Method Seals Microdevices

Making Stronger Carbon

A semiconducting/metal junction formed from two carbon nanotubes.

The creation of nanotubes in 1991 enabled researchers to explore a number of new possibilities in materials science—from development of new structures with exceptional strength to synthetic muscles for use as device actuators (see August 1999 MD&DI, p. 46). Now, a team of researchers led by Vincent Crespi, Downsborough associate professor of physics at Pennsylvania State University (University Park, PA), has generated computer simulations of carbon nanotube fibers that would have mechanical strength comparable with that of diamond. At the time, the researchers were using supercomputers at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, the University of Michigan, and the University of Texas to simulate the electronic states and total energies of various carbon molecules. Although the new fibers have yet to be synthesized, the group theorizes that nanotubes about 0.4 nm in diameter could be made from simple starting materials.

The researchers' discovery was made during studies of unrelated features of carbon compounds. Crespi comments, "This is one of those sideways inspirations that comes when you're looking at one thing and you suddenly realize it has a different application." The discovery prompted a shift in the research focus to concentrate on simulations of the strong nanotubes.

The key discovery, according to Crespi, was that a particular type of tetrahedral carbon atom had special properties. He explains, "Structurally, the carbon atoms are bonded to four neighbors instead of three, as in previous tubes. Performance-wise, they are electrically insulating instead of semiconducting or metallic—as previous tubes are. Also, they are stiffer."

Says Crespi, "Based on our calculations, these new nanotubes are about 40% stronger than others formed using the same number of atoms. The nanotubes we simulated may well be the stiffest one-dimensional systems possible."

The researcher suggests that the main challenge now is synthesis. "We've designed the material to be synthesizable from certain precursors, but our work itself is a calculation of properties based on first-principles theory."

Forming Devices from Artificial Molecules

Research has often focused on creating synthetic materials that are not only capable of mimicking the function of natural ones, but also of extending the material's capabilities, creating new potential applications. For example, an artificial protein-like molecule created at Ohio State University (Columbus, OH) could be the foundation for developing new drugs and medical treatments.

For some time, scientists have tried to synthesize the shape of proteins using thin plastic filaments called dendrimers. Jonathan Parquette, assistant professor of chemistry at the university, and a group of his students are considered to be the first to coax the thin filaments to maintain a shape that suits needed applications.

Depiction of a protein-like molecule made of plastic filaments, or dendrimers.

The molecule is shaped like a sphere, supported by branching beams of polymer material inside. Hollow portions of the structure could theoretically hold drugs or other chemicals. According to the researchers, the synthetic proteins eventually could be made to function as devices to deliver medicine to specific disease sites in the body. They could also act as catalysts for chemical reactions that produce drugs, or form computer chips for light-responsive molecular electronics.

Says Parquette, "The work is primarily directed at developing a fundamental understanding of how we can design and synthesize molecules that fold or 'zip up' into predictable shapes. We have made considerable progress in that regard, so our efforts are now beginning to bifurcate into both developing function from the well-defined structure of these molecules and also continuing to control the shape and folding of molecules on increasingly greater nanometer-length scales." Nature controls biological function by modulating protein shapes, he explains. "One can imagine developing nonnatural molecules with functions that expand beyond that of the biological realm, which is limited of course by evolution."

Parquette speculates that the method could aid in developing treatments for diseases such as diabetes. "One could imagine developing sensors for biologically relevant chemicals in the body, such as glucose in diabetics, among many others," he says. "If the synthetic systems could be developed to function like a protein in that the 'sensing' of one molecule increased the sensitivity of the sensor to another molecule, a phenomenon in proteins called cooperativity, then these sensors could be used to detect very small amounts of a chemical of interest." He believes that it may also be possible "to design these structures to recognize cell surfaces; if we could achieve that goal, then it may be possible to deliver drugs encapsulated in the dendrimers to a particular cell type such as a tumor cell."

Parquette notes that another important function of proteins is catalyzing various chemical reactions in biological systems. "We are currently exploiting the shape of our dendrimeric molecules to develop catalysts of nonbiological reactions that may be of use in pharmaceutical development," he says, adding that "there are many other potential applications that I am excited about. But only more research will determine which of these will ultimately materialize into something useful."

Parquette explains that antibodies appear to be effective in delivering drugs or radiation to specific cell types, adding that such methods have great potential. "Developing synthetic analogs of antibodies would permit greater flexibility in the design of drug-delivery agents," he says, "but it will be quite a while before any synthetic molecule can recognize a cell type with the selectivity of an antibody. Nevertheless, there is great potential in learning how to achieve this selectivity."

New Tools for Nanotechnology

Discussion of the latest advances in medical technology often entail nanotechnology. Observers speculate that the future is in minute devices, from lab-on-a-chip analyzers to implantable diagnostic and therapeutic systems. Some researchers, however, suggest that a gap of sorts still exists between devices that can be designed and those that can actually be manufactured using current technology.

Now, a team of researchers at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI) hope to develop new tools for closing this gap. The group, led by Bradford Orr, PhD, and Duncan Steel, PhD, has demonstrated a technique they hope will greatly improve the study of nanostructures and shorten the development time for quantum computers and similar devices.

The method being explored uses elements of both coherent nonlinear optical spectroscopy and low-temperature near-field microscopy. Specifically, the technique combines the direct optical probe and spectral selectivity of coherent nonlinear optical spectroscopy with the spatial selectivity of near-field microscopy. According to the researchers, the technique is capable of both optically inducing and detecting quantum coherence in an extended structure with subwavelength resolution. Says Steel, "This puts us another step closer to closing the gap between our present-day capabilities and the sophisticated nanodevices and quantum computers of the future."

The new technique is a significant departure from conventional imaging methods. As Steel explains, it uses the same imaging technology, "but combines it with the power of coherent laser spectroscopy. Prior to this demonstration, the signals that were used to build up the image were incoherent. In this case, the signal is coherent." He adds that there are two implications to this. "First, we build up a spatial map that is directly related to what we are exciting. The earlier maps were indirectly related to what was excited. Hence, we are now able to map out the center of mass motion of a quantum wave function in a semiconductor heterostructure. The second implication is that by exploiting the features inherent in coherent spectroscopy, we can follow the quantum dynamics that occur in these structures."

He explains that the technique is applicable to any optically active system, enabling it to be adapted easily to different applications. Steel suggests that such applications could encompass medical use. "This methodology is useful in general in the development of any nanotechnology. This particular advance could certainly see applications in the medical setting for designs that exploit nanooptical features and possibly some of the new ideas that exploit the quantum features that can occur on the nanoscale," says Steel. "This kind of spectroscopy may play a role in some aspects of biomolecular spectroscopy. This is preliminary, but I am aware of some groups that are working to try to use the additional information at the quantum level as an analytical tool to identify biomolecules. This has a long way to go and is highly speculative."

Gluing Microsize Medical Device Components

Micrograph of an outlet in a tiny plastic medical device. The two halves of the structure were bonded together with adhesive, filling the sharp corners of the opening.

Biomedical electromechanical devices currently under development could one day be used to treat tumors and other conditions by delivering therapeutic drugs directly to the disease site. The actual fabrication of such devices, which can be smaller than a human hair, poses a considerable challenge. Engineers at Ohio State University (Columbus, OH), however, believe they have overcome a critical hurdle by developing a new technique for sealing plastic casings of medical nanodevices.

In addition to aiding device construction, the technique promotes the flow of medicine and other fluids through nanochannels. The group suggests that the method, resin-gas injection-assisted bonding, can also be used to alter the material on the surface of a device to suit different medical applications.

According to L. James Lee, professor of chemical engineering at the university, "Plastics have great potential for use in these devices, because they are inexpensive and easy to shape into individual parts. But sealing a tiny casing poses a special challenge. So does altering the characteristics of the plastic to suit different medical tasks. Our method allows someone to do both in one shot." He explains that conventional methods for plastic bonding rely on such welding methods as ultrasonic, laser, infrared, or thermal, or on adhesive techniques, including glue or tape.

Lee further suggests that "these are good for feature sizes in the order of a hundred microns." But, the researcher adds, "for smaller microfluidic channels, these conventional methods may not be applicable because they tend to block the channels or make it difficult to control channel dimensions."

Lee says the research was initiated to address such limitations. "Since packaging of polymer-based biochips is a challenging task and there didn't seem to be any good available method, my group initiated this effort about a year ago," he explains.

The group tried several different techniques for sealing such devices, including welding, gluing, and double-sided tape. Although gluing seemed the most promising, traditional adhesives only gummed up the tiny channels found in microdevices. The researchers then tried using traditional liquid adhesive in a nontraditional way.

Top view of two fluid reservoirs connected by a narrow channel. The structure could be used in implantable devices to dispense medications.

For their initial work, the group molded a plastic device about the size of a small matchstick. The device consisted of a 100-mm-wide channel with a fluid reservoir at each end. The device was molded in two pieces, including a bottom platform containing the channel and reservoirs and a lid. After both parts were coated with a few drops of hydroxyethyl methacrylate (HEMA), they were fitted together. A short burst of nitrogen gas was then blown in one end of the device and out the other. This forced the adhesive to coat the inner surfaces on its way out. Finally, the entire device was cured using UV light.

According to the researchers, tests revealed that liquid traveled through the tiny channel between the two reservoirs with no leaks. The device appeared to be sealed successfully inside and outside. Examination using electron microscopy showed that while most of the HEMA had flowed cleanly throughout the device, some of it had filled in the corners of the reservoirs. As a result, all the sharp corners were smoothed out, which promotes good fluid flow, says Lee.

The researcher adds, "This method allows for simultaneous device bonding and surface modification. Using a mask, it can also achieve local surface modification (e.g., some locations of the microfluidic channels can become hydrophilic while other locations can become hydrophobic)." Likewise, Lee explains, the surface can be made to bind with certain proteins in the body, or to reject proteins.

Lee suggests that the same basic technique could be applied with other adhesives. "We have used HEMA a lot in our lab for other research projects, so it was convenient for us to use it to test the idea. We have also tried other photocurable resins such as SU-8 (an epoxy-based photoresist). They all worked well. As long as an adhesive won't dissolve the plastic substrate, it can be used. We prefer photocurable adhesives because photocure is fast and can achieve local surface modification by using the masking technique. However, the bonding can also be done by thermal cure."

The researchers are continuing to study the new method. Says Lee, "We have successfully bonded channels with widths of 10 mm or larger. One of our current efforts is to extend this technique to bond microfluidic platforms with smaller channel sizes and complicated patterns. We will also try to add more functions to surface modification, such as making the channel surface electric or magnetic conductive, and adjusting the surface static charge to facilitate electro-osmotic-induced flow through the channel." In the future, the group plans to investigate how to make the coating conduct light or electricity, which they believe could prove useful in devices intended to perform a chemical reaction, Lee explains.

Copyright ©2001 Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry

HHS Will Invest $50 Million to Improve Patient Safety

Originally Published MDDI November 2001

HHS Will Invest $50 Million to Improve Patient Safety

On October 11, 2001, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announced that $50 million would be released to fund a series of new research grants, contracts, and other projects to reduce medical errors and improve patient safety.

The funding has been earmarked for 94 projects that will be carried out at state agencies, major universities, hospitals, outpatient clinics, nursing homes, physicians' offices, professional societies, and other organizations nationwide.

According to Thompson, "Nothing could be more important than making sure patients receive quality care that doesn't cause unintended harm, and our investment in this kind of research will pay off in terms of improved patient safety for all Americans." The secretary explained that "these grants will help [researchers] identify the causes of medical errors and develop effective solutions to strengthen quality of care across the country."

The funding initiative will be administered by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The agency intends for the projects to address key unanswered questions about how medical errors occur, then provide science-based information on potential strategies to make the healthcare system safer.

The $50-million research initiative is considered to be the first phase of an effort that will span a number of years. The projects being funded reflect input that was gathered from consumers, healthcare providers, and policymakers during a national research summit last year. The meeting was led by AHRQ and its partners on the Quality Interagency Coordination Task Force.

Copyright ©2001 Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry

Boston’s Research Universities Fuel Growth

Originally Published MX November/December 2001

BUSINESS PLANNING & TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT

Boston’s Research Universities Fuel Growth

According to a recent report on the Massachusetts medical technology industry, the state’s concentration of medtech firms is matched or eclipsed by only three other places: the Chicago area, Minnesota, and California (though its size makes comparison seem unfair). The glut of world-class academic institutions (MIT, Harvard, and several other Ivy League schools within short driving distance) and their attendant teaching hospitals, combined with ample pools of venture and institutional investor capital (the latter in no small part from the cluster of major insurance companies in New England), make the Boston area a natural for medtech development.

As the region’s older manufacturing base continues to decline, medtech and other new industries are becoming even more important. This fact has not been lost on state officials. In a recent speech, Joseph D. Alviani, president of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC), an economic development organization

The European View: Through Emerald Spectacles

Originally Published MX November/December 2001

BUSINESS PLANNING & TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT

The European View: Through Emerald Spectacles

By building a base in venture capital and R&D, Ireland’s medtech industry is preparing for the next leap forward.

Moderated by Norbert Sparrow

Despite more than a decade of progress toward the elusive goal of harmonization, the member states of the European Union (EU) continue to pursue very independent policies when it comes to the medical technology industries. Medtech manufacturers feel the differences in national policy especially in key areas that affect business planning, including the availability of capital, tax policies, workforce development, and government support of R&D infrastructure.

The roundtable participants, clockwise from far left: Mary Harney; Iarla Mongey, press secretary for Harney; Tom McCabe; Brendan McDonagh; Norbert Sparrow; and Martin Cronin.

Ireland has been among the most active of the EU’s member states in recruiting medtech manufacturers. According to Ireland’s Investment and Development Agency (IDA; Dublin), 80 medical device companies, including 13 of the world’s top 20 device firms, have significant operations in Ireland. In addition, more than 120 overseas

Grant Awarded to Develop Infection-Resistant Coatings

Originally Published MDDI November 2001

R&D DIGEST

The risk of infection associated with implantable medical devices is an issue of growing concern. Each year, as many as 100,000 patients with indwelling vascular catheters become infected, resulting in human suffering and healthcare costs estimated to exceed $300 million.

One approach to reducing such occurrences entails the use of special coatings that inhibit infection. The National Institutes of Health has awarded a $249,782 small business technology transfer (STTR) grant to CardioTech International Inc. (Woburn, MA) for ongoing research in this area. The second-year Phase II STTR grant will support research being conducted in conjunction with the University of Rhode Island (Kingston, RI) and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Boston).

The project involves a unique collaboration among researchers in polymer chemistry, textile chemistry, and biomedical research. Conventional methods for creating infection-resistant materials are based on using external binding agents that can integrate the necessary antiseptics and antibiotics.

The CardioTech research is assessing the use of textile technology to incorporate ciprofloxacin, the generic form of the antibiotic Cipro, into a proprietary polyurethane coating without the use of binders. The researchers speculate that the technique could lead to development of new "smart" coatings with selective affinities for specific functions, such as anticoagulation or antimicrobial activities.

Copyright ©2001 Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry

U.S. Trails in Use of Electronic Patient Records

Originally Published MDDI November 2001

U.S. Trails in Use of Electronic Patient Records

Efforts to significantly reduce the risk of medical errors have targeted the implementation of electronic patient records and prescription system. Healthcare systems are finding, however, that adopting such technology-based systems can be slow, difficult, and expensive. In the view of some experts, U.S. healthcare providers are not implementing these systems as rapidly as they should. In fact, there are some indications that the United States is moving more slowly than some other English-speaking nations.

Harris Interactive research suggests that relatively few U.S. physicians use electronic records or prescriptions. A physician survey conducted last year for the Harvard School of Public Health and the Commonwealth Fund's International Health Care Symposium found that the use of such systems is much more advanced in Britain, New Zealand, and Australia than in the United States.

The biggest differences between countries were found in the use of electronic systems by primary care physicians in comparison with specialists. For example, 17% of primary care physicians in the United States reported "sometimes" using electronic medical records, compared with 25% in Australia, 52% in New Zealand, and 59% in the United Kingdom.

Copyright ©2001 Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry

Florida Pursues High-Tech Employment Strategies

Originally Published MX November/December 2001

BUSINESS PLANNING & TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT

Florida Pursues High-Tech Employment Strategies

The Sunshine State has been extremely active in ensuring that it attracts and keeps high-tech companies—including those in medtech. Florida’s universities offer research support and faculty that have direct experience in biomedical technology. These institutions also provide a constant, trained labor pool. The colleges of medicine, engineering, and pharmacy at Florida’s universities are among the resources that support Florida’s existing biomedical technology industry.

The state’s efforts don’t stop with skilled researchers and managers. Florida’s community colleges offer customized training options for workers in medtech companies. Community college programs have been developed especially to strengthen and grow Florida’s biomedical technology workforce with this industry in mind, says Ann Patrick, director of marketing at Enterprise Florida (Orlando). In all, Florida’s 47 technical institutions provide training

Network-Enabled Products

Originally Published MX November/December 2001

INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES

Network-Enabled Products

Medical device manufacturers can stay one step ahead of the competition by addressing today’s most pressing need in healthcare: efficiency.

Fred Thiel

Hospitals are continually on the lookout for solutions that will allow them to manage and care for patients more efficiently. In these modern times, it quickly becomes evident that a technological boost would make hospitals and other healthcare organizations run more smoothly. This opens the door for medical device manufacturers to begin searching for solutions that will enhance their product lines and meet the needs of their customers.

In pursuing new technologies to streamline hospital operations, many medical device manufacturers are considering developing products that can leverage the power of a network. Before investing in such technologies, however, medtech executives need to know exactly how they will increase efficiency, save money, and improve the bottom line.

Among medical device manufacturers, networked devices have been viewed as merely