European scientists say that emerging nanotechnologies, based on designer molecules with long complex tree-and branch structures, may pave the way for wide ranging applications in disease therapy and novel materials-such as resins, electronic displays, and energy storage.
Called hyperbranched polymers, the molecules open the doors for design of bespoke compounds that may revolutionise materials science and the pharmaceutical industry.
A recent workshop organized by the European Science Foundation (ESF), revealed the great scope of hyperbranched polymers.
Konstantinos Karatasos, the workshop's convenor called for uniting the two sides of the field, those experimenting with these compounds in the laboratory, and theoretical chemists simulating novel hyperbranches molecules on a computer.
Already, hyperbranched polymers have been used to develop materials such as resins and wood coatings with improved durability and resistance to abrasion, based on the fact that molecules with multiple branches tend to cling together more strongly, making them resistant to wear.
However, hyperbranched polymers also have other properties, like low viscosity, which makes them suitable for applications such as flexible electronic displays.
One of the most exciting properties of hyperbranched polymers is the range of compounds that can be made by manipulating the terminal side chains of the molecule to change its chemical character.
Now, the same property is being put to use in a whole new generation of vaccines and other compounds designed to give people long-term protection against infectious disease.
But the greatest public interest in hyperbranched polymers is being generated by the medical potential.
Another exciting application dealing with the above property may lie in their use to combat currently incurable diseases involving formation of plaques comprising wrongly folded proteins, such as Alzheimer's and prion diseases like CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jacob) disease.
The ESF Exploratory Workshop, Hyperbranched polymers as novel materials for nanoscale applications:insight from experiment, theory and simulations (HYPER-NANO) was held in Fodele in Greece during May 2008.