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Nanotechnology offers hope for the future
To the Editor:

The FIRST LEGO League state tournament is this coming Saturday. Before that, our team would like to publish some of our research. This year's theme is Nanotechnology. The article below summarizes our research.

In the United States today there is a severe shortage of blood donors. Only 5 percent of those eligible are actually donating blood, although 34,000 pints of blood are needed for surgeries on any given day. Diseases like AIDS and hepatitis can be spread through blood transfusions,

One of the greatest challenges surgeons face today during operations is attempting to stop blood flow from the body. When the bleeding from an open wound has been completely stopped, this is called hemostasis. Modern methods of achieving hemostasis leave surgeons spending 50 percent of surgery time trying to stop bleeding.

Current tools used to stop bleeding include clamps, pressure, cauterization, and sponges. The methods mentioned have many problems of their own; for example, cauterization leaves patients with burns as well as scar tissue. Also, when you use sponges there is the danger of accidentally leaving the sponge or another surgical tool in a patient. One out of every ten people entering a hospital needs blood.

Current research in nanotechnology offers hope for a solution. Dr. Rutledge Ellis-Behnke from MIT is researching peptides for use in surgery. Peptides are made up of two or more amino acids. When they encounter an ionic or salt containing solution such as blood, the peptides turn into a gel. This gel solution has been found to stop bleeding. Dr. Ellis-Behnke accidentally discovered peptides' interesting properties during an experiment with nerve regrowth. Because we all have amino acids in our bodies, the peptides are not rejected by the immune system.

Peptides could cut surgery time in half because they stop bleeding within 15 seconds. They can also serve as scaffolding for any severed or damaged nerves to grow through. Peptides could potentially reconnect parts of the brain that were disconnected by a stroke or other neurological disorders. So far, peptides have only been tested on small animals. Pending FDA approval, Dr. Ellis-Behnke hopes this nanotechnology application can benefit humans in the near future.



Editor’s note: Mindstorms Mayhem is a FIRST LEGO League team for middle school students age 9 to 14. They use LEGO Mindstorms kits to build robots, as well as completing a research project. This year, Mindstorms Mayhem focused their research on the medical application of hemostasis. They wanted to share what they learned in this letter.