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It may be one of the tiniest University of Michigan logos ever made, but it’s more than just an effort to show “how small can you go.”

Researchers at the Ann Arbor school’s College of Engineering have replicated a 3-micron-thick, two-layered block “M’’ to test a system that they say could be used to deliver drugs at different times and rates or to different parts of the body.

The engineers have demonstrated new precision manufacturing methods capable of producing particles 10 or more layers thick, the university said. The particles can be as small as 25 nanometers across. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, or about 10 times the diameter of a single atom of helium.

The block M is a bit larger: 115-by-160-by 3 microns thick, or about the size of a grain of sand. A micron equals 1,000 nanometers and is one-thousandth of a millimeter.

“The Block M’s were a test,” Anish Tuteja, assistant professor of materials science and engineering and a developer of the process, said in a statement. “This opens up all sorts of opportunities for combining different polymers and molecules in a variety of shapes. And because it’s simple and low-cost, we can explore new possibilities much more easily than in the past.”

The layers are about 1.5 microns thick, graduate student Sai Pradeep Reddy Kobaku told The Associated Press.

“Each particle has two layers made of two different plastic materials,” dyed blue and red, respectively, he said.

According to the researchers, one of the first applications could be in chemotherapy. They say that incorporating several layers could let drug-makers combine different chemotherapy drugs and target multiple types of cancer cells with one treatment.

“Different types of cancer have different cell structures, and each type can internalize nanoparticles in a different way,” Geeta Mehta, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, said in a statement. “We can easily tailor the shape and drug combinations of these new particles to each type of cancer so that they’re more effective against cancerous cells and less harmful to healthy cells.”

Commercial use of the technology for drug delivery probably is 5-10 years in the future, while some testing could begin within 1-2 years, the researcher said.

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