Nanolithography: Another Step Forward

NanoInk, a company that has a line of nanolithography products for biological material, including the NLP 2000 system, has announced a new method of nanopatterning based on PEG hydrogels that enhances the machine’s lithographic skills.

Nanolithography is like having a molecular pen that can write on nanoscale material.  PEG, which stands for polyethyl glycol, is a polymer that is accepted by the human organism. Hydrogels are ultraviolet sensitive chemicals that change their shape under UV lighting. Using this combination, the NanoInk 2000 is the state of the art for nanopatterning on biomaterials.

As many H+ readers know, biomaterials are used in surgical practice to substitute for malfunctioning live tissue. These materials try to mimic the function and properties of the real tissue. The word “substitute” is important here because live tissue has many properties in the nanoscale that render it “alive” and, until recently, these functions were not known.

With the advent of nanotechnology, we realized that biological tissue has patterns at the nanoscale, just as the earth, with its geographical features, is patterned when studied from above (in fact there are many similarities between the patterns of these two size scales). These cellular patterns play an important biological role. For example, they may act as highways to coordinate a cell’s proliferation, or as markers for specific cells-only access, or even guide the flow of blood in a way that reduces stress on the arteries.

While the importance of this nanotopology in live tissue is still under investigation, our need to import these nanopatterns onto the next generation of biomaterials (such as vascular stents or artificial joints) is well established. There are many studies that support the enhanced biocompatibility of these nanopatterned biomaterials. Enhanced biocompatibility means that the organism accepts these artificial materials and renders them functional. Nanolithography will likely be the tool for coding biocompatibility into biomaterials.

Imagine all the possibilities in the years to come. When we decode the patterns of the live tissue and their function, we will be able to design biomaterials with enhanced properties that are biocompatible. Imagine an artificial joint that has self-healing properties, or a vascular graft that is resistant to atherosclerosis.

What we need is a scalable, inexpensive technology for embedding nanopatterns on biomaterials. This is the future of artificial biomaterial. Nanoink has just brought it one step closer to reality.

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