Nanotech Battles Bird Flu

Health officials around the world are sounding the alarm about Bird Flu. The
virus has killed 60 people in Asia and its discovery in Europe this week
has heightened fears of a pandemic.

While the medical community works to eradicate Bird Flu, several nanotech
and IT firms say their products could help control
it.

“Nanotechnology will undoubtedly be used in some form — either as a
vaccine, a treatment, a delivery method for a drug, or as a means to
detect, control or limit the spread of the influenza,” Adrian Burden, CEO of
Singular ID, told internetnews.com.

Singular ID was founded in December and makes magnetic tags that give a
“fingerprint” to objects. The tags are similar to RFID chips,
but are smaller, stronger and aren’t susceptible to signal interference,
Singular ID said.

The Singapore startup has also developed readers and a secure database that
can be accessed using a GPRS or satellite phone.

So how does a company founded to help track and authenticate products thwart
Bird Flu? While the readers and database are programmed to gather data from
Singular ID tags, they could just as easily work with biosensors.

“A specific biosensor can be used out in the field to detect Bird Flu in an
animal, and the data can be quickly sent to a central database for secure
storage and data analysis,” Burden said.

The combination of the technologies saves time because first-responders
wouldn’t have to drive samples back to the lab and allows for a broader
picture of geographic areas.

Singular ID is exploring these possibilities
with biosensor developer BiMAT. New York
venture capital firm Advance Nanotech funds both companies.

Burden added that if field tests are developed, Singular ID tags could be
used on animals that have been checked. In addition, the company would work
with a drug maker to ensure that no counterfeit vaccines find their way to
market.

Given that its less than a year old, Singular ID products are still being
developed. The firm hopes to have an evaluation kit available for potential
customers in the second quarter of 2006.

It also hopes that any system it
develops for Bird Flu could also be used on other illnesses, such as
malaria, dengue fever or AIDS.

In contrast, Emergency Filtration Products’ offering is on
the market now. The Henderson, Nev., company said that demand for its
NanoMask is surging amid flu fears.

EFP said its NanoMask uses a filtration system combining nanoparticles and
filters to capture bacterial and viral microorganisms. The company has
ordered 500,000 filters from its supplier which will be shipped to the
company’s Nevada facility, enhanced with nanoparticles and packaged.

“Over the past few weeks we have experienced a strong increase in orders for
the NanoMask, which we believe is due to the growing threat of a possible
avian flu pandemic,” Douglas K. Beplate, president of EFP, said in a
statement.

Christine Peterson, founder of the Foresight Nanotech Institute, notes that
in the fight against viruses its hard to categorize emerging technologies
as nanotechnology or biotechnology, but devices like nanotech biosensors
could be important going forward.

“As we look in decades to come, nano will be the ultimate answer to dealing
with these viruses — they are nanoscale machines.”

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