Nanotechnology is gaining a lot of attention because of its expanding potential applications. The Department of Science and Technology has taken notice and drew a roadmap to shepherd this post-industrial technology in the country through its attached agency, the Philippine Council for Advance Science and Technology Research and Development.
The roadmap outlines a focused research and development in exploring and exploiting high impact and life enhancing benefits of nanotechnology.
“The present roadmap is actually a product of collective effort from various sectors reflecting different perspectives that could guide us in priority settings especially now that our funds are limited. We have to prioritize the projects that will be funded under the nanotech program,” PCASTRD Executive Director Reynaldo V. Ebora explained.
There are currently a few Filipino experts now working on nanotechnology development who have successfully integrated it in biotechnology and materials science.
Nanotechnology involves engineering of functional systems at the atomic or molecular level. It can create many new materials and devices with wide-ranging applications such as in medicine, energy, agriculture, food production, space science, and electronics, among others.
Reports said the US National Nanotechnology Initiative had previously poured about US$ 220 million in R&D. This went up to US$1.5 billion in 2008 while global investment in nanotechnology R&D went up to about US$10 billion.
Under the national nanotechnology roadmap, DOST trimmed its priority projects to ICT and semiconductors, agriculture and food, energy, medicine, and the environment due to the modest R&D fund.
Projects that are being worked out under the program include ICT and semiconductors that have ongoing R&D on GaAs nanorods, CNTs and quantum dots-a tiny crystal used in the production of medical sensors and solar cells. Fabrication of nanodevices is also being considered in support of domestic ICT industry.
Meanwhile, solar energy devices that use nanostructures are being pursued through collaborative approach by research groups from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, and De La Salle University. It focuses on solid state-based and dye sensitized-based solar cells.
In agriculture, nanotechnology can be applied on chemical sensors and biosensors for precision agriculture, the utilization of Mesoporous Silicate Nanoparticles (MSNs) to deliver DNA to animal and plant cells to facilitate gene transformation and expression, standards setting for fertilizers, pesticides, and other agrochemicals that contain nanomaterials, and intelligent sensor-actuator system.
In food, a menu of possible technologies are set on edible coats for agriculture and food exports and controlled atmosphere storage for these commodities, biodegradable food packaging with barrier properties and enhanced strength, standards setting for food, beverage and nutraceuticals, self-healing food packaging films and controlled release formulations for food, food additives, flavors, and nutraceuticals.
DOST also hopes to formulate technologies that will detect and control pests in food and agriculture such as nanobiosensors for pathogens in food crops and food products, nanosensors for rapid detection and measurement of food contaminants, freshness sensors in intelligent packages for perishable food products (fish, meat, etc), sensors for quality assurance of export food products (VCO, civet coffee, fish sauce, etc), biosensors for detection of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), portable nanosensors for rapid detection and measurement of food contaminants (toxins, pesticides, antimicrobials), and portable biosensors for pathogens in food crops and food products.
Many experts believe that nanotechnology can be integrated developing medicines capable of early detection and prevention, and improve diagnostics, treatment, and follow-ups on diseases. Nanomedicine, as it is called, is anticipated to rake in billions of dollars as an industry globally.
Nanomedicine related researches are planned in the next three to 10 years including the development of ex-vivo and in vitro diagnostic and imaging protocols for early and sensitive detection of tuberculosis, malaria, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases using nanostructures and lab-on-chips, and promotion of Ethnobiology that harvests and investigates natural nanostructures from endemic flora, fauna, and non-living sources for drug properties, bioactive pigments, biomarkers, and structural color.
In five years, the program girds towards miniaturization and deployment of optical and chemical diagnostic kits into field extension of diagnostic research to other priority areas (filariasis, schistosomiasis, leprosy, sexually transmitted diseases, re-emerging infections) and development of efficient drug delivery systems from the library of medications covered by the Cheaper Medicine Bill.
Top research efforts in the next ten years will cover the development of bioactive nanostructures (targeted drugs) from ethnobiology, deployment of diagnostic kits to other priority areas, and the whole-animal multimode imaging and clinical stages of developed nanodrugs from ethnobiology.
In the environment field, water purification by nanofilters, environmental remediation, and development of green composites including forest products will be explored.
The roadmap also aims to introduce nanotechnology in all science and engineering courses, possible acquisition of basic equipment to illustrate nanostructures, upgrading of laboratories for nanoparticle measurements, and nanotechnology risk assessment.
But these priority areas under the nanotechnology roadmap can still be rerouted if and when a significant game-changing development roll up, Dr. Ebora explained.