The New Revolution: Convergence
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Here's a term few of you may have heard: Convergence. It's being hailed as the newest revolution in modern biology.
Sounds like a big deal, and it kind of is, because convergence is a new way of thinking which marries expertise from diverse specialties to create innovative, ground-breaking products and medical treatments.
A good example of this integrated research approach is at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There, an award-winning materials engineer was recruited to work with the school's cancer scientists.
Together, they're developing viruses that can build microscopic electronic parts. This virus-produced wiring could provide the circuitry and power for implantable medical devices in the future.
So, what convergence does is bring together disciplines that were traditionally separate. For example: having basic biochemists and cell biologists work with computer scientists and engineers. The researchers share not only expertise, but actual work space. This increases their opportunity to mind-share.
This results in ground-breaking work. Imagine nanoparticles, many times smaller than the human cell, delivering cancer-fighting drugs directly to tumors. How about microscopic chips that can detect cancer cells roaming the blood stream?
Scientists believe discoveries like these will be accelerated with convergence, not only in medical science but also in resolving future food, water, energy, climate and security needs.
At our university, microbiologists and engineers are developing miniature devices to detect microbes that could be used for bioterrorism, such as the Ebola virus. Elsewhere, biologists and engineers are harnessing single cell algae as factories to produce biodiesel.
What you may not realize is the economic payoff of these innovations. The 23 billion dollars spent on biomedical research in 2007 led to more than 50 billion dollars in goods and services.
With proper funding, scientists believe convergence has and will continue to create a fundamental shift, and countless opportunities to improve lives around the world.