A little help from the crowd

Published in Physics World, 1 Nov 2014

Atif Syed was finishing a degree in electronics and nanotechnology last year when he came up with the idea for Nanject, a 21st-century replacement for the hypodermic needle. Nanject looks like a nicotine patch, but the similarity ends there: it aims to transfer magnetic nanoparticles directly into a person’s capillaries, where they target tumours and other diseased tissue.

Syed, who was then based at the University of York in the UK and is now doing a PhD at the University of Edinburgh, believes Nanject could avoid all sorts of problems associated with syringes, such as pain, hygiene and the risk of internal bleeding. “We’re still using a 19th-century technology,” he says. “Our research could potentially eliminate these issues.”

To develop Nanject, Syed and his York collaborator Zakareya Hussein approached neither a funding agency nor a financial angel. Instead they logged on to the crowdfunding website Experiment, which lets anyone support research projects by backing them with small or large amounts of cash. Within less than a month, more than 50 individuals had each donated an average of more than $50 to help the pair reach their $3000 target. “We wanted the money to do some testing and potentially go further from there,” says Syed. “Crowdfunding looked fine because we weren’t asking for a big amount, and we also wanted [to] get some very early prototypes.”
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