PORTLAND, Ore. Widely considered the father of bioMEMS, Professor Mauro Ferrari has founded a company to commercialize MEMS-based medical solutions and possible space applications.
NanoMedical Systems Inc. (Austin, Texas), will target medical applications that have fallen short using conventional technologies. Ferrari will run the company with former Sematech director Randy Goodall.
"I am looking at silicon as a fundamental medical material," said Ferrari. "All the other materials, from nanotubes to gold nanoparticles to quantum dots, are not as bio-compatible as silicon.
Based on the budding field of microfluidics, whereby tiny channels and reservoirs dispense drugs as well as test biological samples using small amounts of reagents, Ferrari's use of silicon bioMEMS also could someday enable manned flights to Mars. His team has designed five medical implants for NASA that astronauts could use for the metered release of drugs that counter the effects of radiation, loss of muscle mass and weakening of bones during the two-year round trip flight to Mars.
By crafting ultra-small channels as small as 57 angstroms, Ferrari claimed that molecular discrimination principles will insure precise dispensing of drugs while preventing the rejection of implants.
The NASA effort was put on hold while the Obama administration reviews the future of U.S. manned spaceflight. In the mean time, the group is focusing on solving two big probelms in cancer research: early detection and individual treatment.
According to Ferrari, both problems are amenable to bioMEMS solutions, using injectable nanoscale sensors for early detection and injectable devices that can identify specific cancer proteins. This would enable physicians to use bioMEMS devices to deliver slightly different treatments, depending on the location and strain of the disease.
"Curing cancer is fundamentally a technology problem," claimed Ferrari.
Ferrari predicted that within a year his team will have its first silicon-based bioMEMS implants ready for clinical trials. The team is also working on nanoporous silicon that can mend broken bones with an injection of "fracture puddy" that solidifies into a scaffolding that biodegrades as fractures heal.
Ferrari's research team includes over 100 scientists.