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January 2001


Grant will aid development of nano-scale materials processing
A $375,000 National Science Foundation grant will help an Iowa State University professor develop new processing methods for biodegradable polymer materials. Shaochen Chen, assistant professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, will explore new ways of micro- and nano-scale processing of biodegradable polymers. Chen aims to develop processes to "etch" micro patterns into biodegradable polymers.

Biodegradable polymers hold great promise as new materials for implantable biomedical micro-devices, due to their biocompatibility and natural ability to degrade in tissue over time. But these materials need to have patterns etched into their surfaces to perform their functions. For example, biodegradable materials with micro-channels etched in are being looked at as a way of aiding nerve regeneration in humans. The materials also could act as micro-filters for bioseparations, basically allowing researchers to shrink the size of what now are desk-top instruments into the size of a computer chip. However, etching channels and patterns into these materials has been difficult because current methods cause thermal damage to surrounding areas.

Chen will develop methods using an ultraviolet excimer laser and a femtosecond laser -- a laser that produces pulses lasting only a femtosecond (1 x 10-15 second) long -- to produce controlled micro-features on polymer surfaces. Nano-scale features will be fabricated by integrating the laser technology with near-field techniques. Once the techniques have been established, Chen and his colleagues will do detailed studies on exactly how the highly selective laser processes remove materials from the polymers and they will integrate the materials into biodegradable micro-devices.

"This research will make significant contributions to the emerging interdisciplinary fields of micro- and nano-manufacturing science and technology, bioengineering and polymer science," Chen said. For more information contact Chen, (515) 294-2298, or Skip Derra, ISU News Service, (515) 294-4917.

New views into surgery
Surgical patients may benefit from improved techniques developed by two Iowa universities. Scientists at Iowa State University's Center for Nondestructive Evaluation (CNDE) are using their expertise and tools such as ultrasound and X-ray for inspecting engineered parts to break new ground in image-guided surgery. Experts from the University of Iowa's department of radiology, led by Dr. Michael Vannier, are providing advice and guiding the research to address important medical issues.

The scientists are developing techniques that should improve surgery success rate and recovery time without increasing the invasiveness of procedures. Four major areas are being investigated: advanced high-resolution x-ray techniques that take advantage of the unique properties of alternative contrast agents; real-time visual feedback for brachytherapy, which involves planting radioactive seeds and applying radiation to eliminate tumors; adding a third dimension to ultrasound by combining multiple, two-dimensional image slices; and intravascular ultrasound imaging to measure differences in how healthy and diseased tissues scatter waves.

"In these projects, unique expertise developed for nondestructive evaluation of structural materials is now being applied to biomedical imaging. Because these capabilities are complementary to those currently used in medicine, they promise to enable significant improvements in imaging, making an important impact on human health," said Bruce Thompson, director of CNDE. For more information, contact Thompson, (515) 294-8152, or Robert Mills, IPRT Public Affairs, (515) 294-1113.

Faster, simpler, cleaner
New technology developed by Ed Yeung, Iowa State University Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and program director of Physical and Biological Sciences at Ames Laboratory, promises to be a faster, simpler and cleaner way of analyzing chemical compounds. Yeung, who has filed for a patent on the technology, applies massive parallel processing to chromatographic separations in an instrument that analyzes liquid mixtures far more efficiently than current devices.

"It allows for universal detection of a majority of compounds, eliminating the need for expensive, cumbersome and potentially hazardous use of fluorescent tags," Yeung said. Current procedures for pharmaceutical and chemical companies are cumbersome at best when inventing a new product. Firms literally have hundreds of thousands of compounds that they produce as part of a development project.

"They don't have any way to look at the compounds quickly enough," said Shelley Coldiron, CEO and president of CombiSep, the company marketing Yeung's invention. Coldiron says CombiSep's new product will change that. Conventional high-performance liquid chromatographic (HPLC) instruments, used by many companies, can only look at one sample at a time. CombiSep's product (MCE 2000) can look at 96 simultaneous separations of compounds. Sample size and use of reagents by the MCE 2000 also is approximately 1/1000th what can be used with conventional HPLC.

"Most chemical companies can only analyze 10 percent of the products they develop because of limited sample throughput," Coldiron said. "Hopefully, our technology will allow them to look at all their products and eliminate the bottleneck that the chemical and biochemical industries have right now."

The new technology can be used in a variety of ways including genomics, forensics, drug discovery, combinatorial chemistry, quality control and early disease detection. The first unit is being delivered to Proctor & Gamble Pharmaceuticals in February. CombiSep is a start-up company founded in December 1999 through the help of Iowa State's Center for Advanced Technology Development and the Center for Industrial Research and Service. For more information, contact Coldiron, (515) 294-7135; Ed Yeung, (515) 294-8062; or Dave Gieseke, LAS Information, (515) 294-7742.


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