The last day the Future in Review conference focused on big societal issues, rather than the usual techno-centric topics. During a panel on the future of nano-biotechnology, Alan Russell, head of regenerative medicine at the University of Pittsburg, described progress in moving from treating symptoms to generating cures and regenerating tissues as a result of the convergence of nanotechnology and biology. "Every tissue from head to toe is being regenerated somewhere across the planet," Russell said. Corneal epithelium are being grown in dishes at one temperature and then cooled and peeled off and placed on an eye. Three patients in the U.S. have received whole cultured bladders grown using nano-biology techniques. A uterus can be grown outside the body in animal tests, placed inside the body and subsequently produce babies. He predicted that within the next five years, spinal cord injuries will be treated with stem cells and some of the paralyzing effects reversed. In South America, stem cell therapy is used to eliminate disease in failing hearts. U.S. trails are starting next week, Russell said. The Department of Defense has allocated $20 million to study whole limb generation. "If a newt can do it, why not we," Russell said. However, limb regeneration is more than five years out.
Michael Knapp, CEO of nano-startup Cambrios, described applying techniques of molecular biology to synthesizing electronic components and other materials. His company is discovering and creating artificial proteins (nanostructures) that will attach to inorganic materials, such as semiconductors. Instead of harsh chemical conditions and expensive machines, Cambrios can physically self assemble and bind elements via molecular affinity at room temperature in a bathtub type environment. "The implementation of bio manufacturing technology will happen first by replacing existing steps in the manufacturing chain in three to five years," Knapp said. He predicted that the Holy Grail of simply mixing biochemicals and organic salts to create a computer will occur in the 20 to 50 year timeframe.