Nanotech Could Keep U.S. Ahead of China

     WASHINGTON (CN) - Four of the nation's leading nanotechnology scientists told a U.S. House of Representatives panel Tuesday that a little tweaking could go a long way in keeping the United States ahead of China and others in the industry.
     The hearing focused on the status of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, a federal program launched in 2001 for the advancement of nanotechnology.
     Twenty federal agencies pump billions of dollars a year into the program, keeping the United States in its position as a worldwide leader in nanotechnology.
     "I think it's clear to say [the NNI] has been successful on many different levels," said Dr. Keith Stevenson, a biochemistry professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
     Even as well funded as the program is, however, Congress wants to stay competitive with China, which is beating the nation in quantity but not quality, the scientists said.
     Stevenson was one of four who addressed the Subcommittee on Research and Technology, a member of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology family, regarding the pulse of the technology that could cure cancer and spur innovation across nearly every scientific field.
     "I have to admit it goes [over my head]," Subcommittee Chairman Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., said.
     Bucshon, a heart surgeon, noted the medical community takes a macro approach to cancer, stating that removing the cancer from a patient isn't a cure for the disease. The new testimony suggests that nanotechnology could be the answer.
     "Nano-sized gold particulars can kill cancer cells," Dr. Lloyd Whitman said.
     The interim director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, Whitman said, gold is not gold at all at the nano level - one ten-thousandth the thickness of a human hair. Rather it is many different colored particles that can get sucked up into cancer cells like "a Trojan horse."
     F Cubed CEO Les Ivie also testified at the hearing, stating the only way for the country to stay on top is through small, common sense-based regulations and having an open dialogue between publicly funded researchers, private investors and the commercial industry.
     "Regulations shouldn't go beyond the safety standards already in place," said
     Ivie, whose company uses diagnostics on the molecular level to identify disease and contaminated food.
     Dr. Mark Hersam, a member of the department of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University, told the committee he'd like to see a more streamlined patent process.
     Hersam, who has more than 20 patents pending, is still waiting on one he submitted in 2005.
     "I doubt that people in your field are flooding the desk of patent examiners, why do you think it's taking so long," Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, asked Hersam.
     "I'm just as mystified as you are," Hersam said.
     Throughout the two-hour hearing, the subcommittee hinted at a reauthorization of NNI in the future, noting the innovation the program has created on a budget that doesn't change much from year to year.