Synthetic nanotubes created by scientists could pave the way for curing diseases

20 Jul 2012

An international team of scientists are claiming to have made a nanotechnology breakthrough, as they have created synthetic nanotubes that apparently mimic the key features of natural pores in the human body. The scientists believe their findings could one day lead to new technology, such as ways to deliver proteins or medicines directly into cells to fight diseases.

The scientists who hail from universities in China and institutes in China and the US have just had their findings published on The Argone Laboratory in the US was also involved in the research.

Molecular engineering

The international scientific crew believe it has overcome key design hurdles to expand the potential uses of nanopores and nanotubes.

According to the researchers, other scientists have reported successes in making synthetic nanotubes from various materials, but they said the use of such nanotubes had been limited because they degrade in water, they are difficult to control and scientists could not assemble them into appropriate filters.

The team said it had overcome such nanotube hurdles by building self-assembling, size-specific nanopores.

The scientists said this new capability has enabled them to engineer nanotubes for specific functions, using pore size to selectively block specific molecules and ions.

“It’s the first synthetic nanotube that has a very uniform diameter,” said Xiao Cheng Zeng, one of the study’s senior authors and an emeritus professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

According to the Argone National Laboratory, pore sizes can be adjusted to filter molecules and ions according to their size by changing the macroycle size.

It gave the analogy of putting a space into a wedding ring to make it fit more tightly.

In addition, the team said the channels are water permeable, a process the scientists involved believe will help in the fast transmission of intercellular information.

They said synthetic nanopores mimic the activity of cellular ion channels used in the human body, thus laying the foundation for new technology, such as ways to deliver proteins or medicines directly into cells to fight diseases.

“The idea for this research originated from the biological world, from our hope to mimic biological structures, and we were thrilled by the results,” said Bing Gong, a professor for the University at Buffalo in New York, who led the study. “We have created the first quantitatively confirmed synthetic water channel.”

Nanotube image via Shutterstock

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic