Episode 1: Nanoparticles and the future of implants with Prof. Tom Webster

Prof. Tom Webster

(Image Source: www.che.neu.edu)

Professor Webster directs the Webster Nanomedicine Laboratory in Northeastern University, Boston which designs, synthesizes, and evaluates nanomaterials for various implant applications. To date, his lab group has generated over 9 textbooks, 48 book chapters, 306 invited presentations, at least 403 peer-reviewed literature articles, at least 567 conference presentations, and 32 provisional or full patents. Some of these patents led to the formation of 9 companies. Find out his thoughts on how nanoparticles will affect the future of the pharmaceutical industry in this chat with Samir Gondalia.

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Show Notes

1:00     How to explain nanotechnology to a non-technical person? Average diameter of a hair is 80,000 nm, nanoparticles can be as small as 8 nm. Nanoparticles can be used to kill or turn off cells in human body. Since we can’t see nanoparticles with our eye, it’s an invisible treatment.

3:42     Nanoparticles are defined as any particle less than 100 nm in at least one dimension. Or is it? It can be more than 100 nm and can still be considered nanoparticle.

4:40     Kind of equipment needed to work with nanoparticles – scanning tunneling microscope, atomic force microscope, super high resolution electron microscope etc. Fireplace soot has carbon nanotube (one of the most important nanoparticle) but we didn’t know that until the advancement of microscopy.

6:50     Raw materials and methods to generate nanoparticles. Top down – a sheet of metal to breakdown into nanoparticles. Bottom up – building a nanoparticle by assembling one atom at a time, preferable way of the           nano practitioners including Prof Webster. Richard Feynman – his lecture at Caltech, There’s plenty of room at the bottom (1959) is considered the beginning of the nanotechnology field.

(Image source: http://www.websternano.org/)

9:00     Prof Webster is considered one of the pioneers in the field of nanomedicine. Hear what inspired him to join this field and about his journey that began when he was 6 years old and broke his femur when hit by a car! Bone, cells, and tissues are made up of nanoparticles but the modern implants are made up of micro-particles. Shouldn’t we use the implants made of nanoparticles? We now have FDA approved nanoparticles implants, bone fillers and cancer treatment.

12:15   What does Prof Webster consider to be his greatest win? Using nanoparticles to improve bone growth, first time discovering nanoparticles can kill bacteria without antibiotics. Right now, implantable nano sensors are becoming a reality and it’s very close to the futuristic healthcare as imagined in Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku.

15:00   What is Prof Webster’s favorite failure? In-vitro models can be better. There are limitations of an academic researcher to commercialize an exciting discovery.

16:19   Status of nanomedicine research in the US. National Nanotechnology Initiative provided the key funding mechanism which was instituted by President Bill Clinton in 2000. Primary growth driver is the entrepreneurial startup movement.

18:28   Status of nano research around the world. At least once a month big nano conference.

19:18   Big pharma and nano medicine. There is a strong interest but the reliance is still on small, startups to bring the technology forward.

19:55   What should you keep in mind when investing in a nano company? Do opposite of what the Theranos investors did! Pay close attention to the nano particle action. How does it work compare to the other competitors?

21:21   Who will be taxi to the nanomedicine Uber? There will be a strong growth in the personalized medicine and implant sensors.

23:08   Cost and the side effects of nanomedicine. It’s still a premium product but it will change with more participation. Nanoparticles can get through most membranes in our body, so the concern for the side effects is high. It’s a strength and weakness of nanoparticles. It makes biodistribution necessary in any clinical trial to prove that the nanoparticles have not penetrated into any critical organs, something that’s not needed for small molecules or biologics.

25:33   Prof Webster’s favorite books – on the subject of nanotechnology, biology, engineering,      immune systems and anatomy.

26:40   Prof Webster’s favorite quote – There’s plenty of room at the bottom by Richard Feynman.

26:56   Advice to students and young professionals – push boundaries and challenge status quo.

27:40   Parting words – let Prof Webster know if you end up doing something in nanomedicine.

Contact Prof Tom Webster: th.webster@northeastern.edu

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