Nanotechnology pioneer Luna Innovations of Blacksburg, Va., has announced that it plans to establish a nanomanufacturing facility in Danville, Va. The plant will produce novel "buckyball" materials for medical diagnostics and other military and commercial applications. This technology was developed in part with a 2001 award from the National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) Advanced Technology Program (ATP). The ATP grant helped to accelerate the development process for new nanomaterial-based medical reagents.
The Danville plant, sited in the city's old tobacco warehouse district, will produce "TrimetaspheresTM"-- soccerball-shaped molecules made of a carbon exterior which enclose three metal atoms. Trimetaspheres, a discovery made at Virginia Tech and exclusively licensed to Luna Innovations, are expected to have a major impact as a contrast agent for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The molecules can provide enhanced MRI images at least 25 times better than currently marketed contrast agents. In addition to improving imaging and enabling smaller, less expensive MRI machines, Trimetaspheres can be modified chemically to make them soluble and to attach specific molecules that seek out cancer cells, or other targeted cells.
The company's ATP project helped Luna to scale up a laboratory synthesis method to produce cost-effective, volume quantities of nanomaterials that are stable in air and soluble in water. Likewise this effort produced new methods of surface modification that allow solubility, a key issue for the success of the new material.
The company also plans to manufacture empty cage buckyballs and nanocomposite thin films. Commercial applications for these materials include both consumer and military products with possible uses in vehicle parts, stain resistant textiles, ship hull coatings and fuel cells.