Technology that can determine the concentration of nanomaterials in living tissue has been licensed by The University of Texas at Austin to Houston-based nanoTox Inc.
The technology comes from the laboratory of Dr. James Tunnell, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering. Tunnell's lab focuses on developing minimally invasive optical technologies for the detection, diagnosis and treatment of disease, particularly for application to cancer screening and therapeutics.
Nanoparticles are pure chemical or molecular materials smaller than one-tenth of a micrometer that are increasingly being used in a variety of applications, including medical devices, medicines and cosmetics.
In developing safe and effective products, one concern is knowing what becomes of nanoparticles applied or administered to the body. For example, nanoparticles designed to concentrate in certain locations such as tumor tissue for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes must not accumulate in other healthy tissues where they might cause harm such as the brain, heart, liver or kidneys.
Tunnell's tool, which employs optical spectroscopy, provides a non-invasive way for companies who use nanoparticles in their products to tell whether those particles remain in tissue or have been flushed out.
"This uses an optical fiber that you just place in contact with the tissue and the light makes a measurement in a non-invasive way," Tunnell said.
The current method for measuring nanoparticles at diagnostic or therapeutic concentrations in tissue typically involves the administration of radioisotopes or invasive procedures requiring a biopsy followed by time-consuming and costly examination using specialized forms of electron microscopy, X-ray analysis or nuclear chemical analysis in some cases.
"Dr. Tunnell has created a very minimally invasive technique to detect nanoparticles in tissue relatively simply and economically," said Greg King, vice president and chief operating officer of nanoTox®.
As a detection tool, it "will answer a lot of questions that government agencies and consumers are asking about nanomaterials," Harry Bushong, the company's president, said.
The license grants nanoTox® exclusive worldwide rights to the technology which includes the development of medical diagnostic applications. The company also plans to further develop the technology for other uses such as the nanotechnology risk-assessment market.
Nanotox has laboratory and research operations in Austin.
The company's chief scientific officer, Dr. David Hobson, said that working with Tunnell and his laboratory staff should lead to the development of this promising technology into a valuable tool for medical and nanotechnology safety assessment applications.
Understanding the risks from exposure to nanomaterials helps to satisfy international product liability insurers that support the development of beneficial applications of nanotechnology.
The company's scientists consult with engineers, chemists and other nanomaterial developers to identify and either eliminate or reduce significant toxicity found in a nanomaterial, thereby improving the safety of nanomaterials for customers, employees and the environment.