Reporters Notebook: How Minnesota companies are using nanotechnology

I spent the morning at Medtronic’s Moundsview campus for an event called “Nanotechnology – A Showcase of Current Applications in the Region,” put on by Life Science Alley and MN Nano.

I’m back at my desk now, and here’s my quick summary.

We heard presentations from ten Minnesota companies (and one from Canada) about how they’re currently using nanotechnology and how they might use it in the future. The uses were all pretty varied. Some companies are using nanotechnology to develop cheap, disposable diagnostics tools (Diagnostic Biosensors, Douglas Scientific). Others are using nanotech to make tools last longer by coating them with thin, near indestructible layers of particles (Phygen).

Darrel Untereker, vice president of technology for Medtronic, started off the morning by explaining what nanotechnology is, and how it can be difficult to comprehend. “It’s everything, and yet it’s nothing.” In short, it’s any technology that centers around manipulating materials at a spectacularly small scale — a nanometer is one billionth of a meter. Scientists have discovered that materials behave different when isolated at that scale. The Periodic Table? Forget it, said Emil Hallin, director of strategic scientific development at Canadian Light Source. At the nano scale, materials may have entirely different properties.

A few of the presentations were too technical my novice brain to keep up with, but several were quite accessible. Here’s a few very small summaries of some of the presentations:

  • Douglas Scientific, a company based in Alexandria, is developing a tool aimed at cutting the cost and time it takes to analyze biofluids. Currently, much of that work is done using micro test plates, a compact tray that can hold dozens of liquid samples. Douglas Scientific’s product compacts that even further by sealing nanoliter samples inside a thin plastic tape, which can be fed through a machine and scanned for data.
  • RJA Dispersions is a Maplewood company led by two former 3M employees. It produces nano-particle and pigment dispersions that are used to make ink jet ink. The particles need to be small enough that they won’t clog the ink jet nozzles and stable enough so that they won’t coagulate inside the cartridges.
  • And Kevin Kluggtvedt summarized efforts by the Rushford Institute for NanoTechnology to make the southern Minnesota town a hub for nanotechnology (Little Particles on the Prairie?). Companies include Rushford Hypersonic and Kluggtvedt’s company, Rushford NanoElectro Chemical Co.

Were you there, too? What did you take away? Feel free to share in the comments section.

Medical device makers urge caution on treatment comparisons

When it comes to treating common diseases, physicians have a near-dizzying array of treatment options at their disposal.

Take coronary artery disease. There’s bypass surgery. There’s medication. There’s devices such as stents. Or drug-coated stents. And if a pill or device is involved, then there’s the question of which brand or model.

In short, it can be like standing in the cereal aisle at a supermarket. With so many choices, how’s a doctor to decide what’s best?

A new federal research priority is aiming to empower doctors, as well as patients and health-insurance companies, with better information for making these kinds of decisions. The shift could have major implications for Minnesota’s health-care and medical-device companies. (Continue reading…)