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Nano-Discovery, Big Idea

Nano-Discovery, Big IdeaA Tufts startup is making big progress in a small-scale technology that could lead to advances in pharmaceutical research, biosensors and tissue engineering. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.20.04] Based on the ground-breaking work of Tufts chemical engineering professor Regina Valluzzi, a new company is poised to make big waves with its tiny technology. By developing a new process for utilizing organic compounds called chirals, the startup is paving the way for a technology that may lead to advances in pharmaceutical research, biosensors and tissue engineering.

"A startup [based on research] from Tufts University has developed a nanoscale technology it says can rip into one of the more challenging problems in molecular biology," reported Mass High Tech.

In the past, chiral molecules have presented a dilemma for chemists in many disciplines.Much like fingers on your hand result in left and right-handed versions, the identical atoms on a given molecule may also be assembled in a mirror image fashion. Thus, chiral molecules exist in mirror-image versions: right-handed or left-handed. The most difficult problem has been separating the two.

The nature of chirals is especially crucial for the pharmaceutical industry. While one version of the molecule may be a cure, the mirror-image may cause illness - making the need to separate and distinguish the two critically important.

"For example, the left-handed version of the drug Ethambutol is used around the world to fight tuberculosis," reported the San Diego Union-Tribune. "But its mirror image is an ‘evil twin' that can cause blindness."

But now, the startup company says it has found a way to separate specific chirals as needed.

"With self-assembling polymers that can create channels as small as 11 nanometers, Evolved Nanomaterial Sciences, Inc. wants to create nanoscale scaffolding that can tear chirals into smaller, more useful bits," reported Mass High Tech.

The innovative company consists of just three members: chief executive Robert Toker, chief financial officer Robert Pucciariello, and Valluzzi -- who has been developing the technology for the past ten years.

CEO Robert Toker said that the company's invention is the first "true" nanotechnology, "a nano-sized solution to handle nano-sized materials, which in turn create nano-sized results," reported Mass High Tech.

The company hopes to market its technology to drug-discovery researchers for pharmaceutical processing, purification, separations and filtration. As Toker told Mass High Tech, the technology is so cutting edge that he may have to convince pharmaceutical companies of its potential.

"A lot of what we're doing is really non-obvious," Toker told Mass High Tech. "Adoption will be an issue for us."

According to Toker, pharmaceutical companies have done relatively little research into the potential of chirals. But the work of this startup may change that.

"There is a big push for chirals," Toker told Mass High Tech.

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