Q&A with DiPole’s James Dolgin on the Future of Nanofibers

James Dolgin, DiPole Materials’ Director of Business Development, is steeped in the business of custom nanofiber manufacturing. With a degree in Polymer Science and Engineering from Case Western Reserve University and a current Venture for America fellow, James focuses his time on what’s around the corner for nanofibers and industry applications. With this in mind, we recently talked with James about his work at DiPole Materials and his thoughts on the future of nanofibers.

What are some current industry and market trends for nanofibers?

What’s grabbing on most to nanofibers right now is the biomedical field, which is taking advantage of the small-scale interactions nanofibers can have with cells.

One of the biggest problems with creating a better cell environment is actually mimicking the extracellular matrix, which nanofibers do in a way that’s highly customizable and biomimetic. You can control how cells differentiate and grow with far more accuracy using electrospinning.

In addition, we’re seeing a lot of ways in which the nanofiber structure can aid cell growth in-vivo for applications like wound healing, wound dresses, internal replacements for large volumetric muscle loss. Not just lab studies, but actual medical applications.

Beyond that, in general, there’s a huge shift in several industries toward nanofibers like the textile industry and the filtration industry – both air and water.

We’ve seen the need to largely decrease the diameter, and increase the surface area, of textile fibers so you’re getting an interaction between fibers and molecules. This way you can use them for their ability to bind with additives and embedded nanoparticles.

What’s great about nanofibers is you’re still preserving the mechanical properties of the bulk material. In fact, in a lot of cases, nanofibers increase tensile strength and elastic modulus.

The challenge right now is scaling ideas in this space. And this is the challenge we’re addressing at DiPole Materials every day. The need for nanofibers is growing exponentially, and the research to address this need is too. The missing piece is bridging that gap – and that’s where we come in.

Let’s dig deeper into how DiPole plays a role in this industry. Describe DiPole’s core product suite and industry focus. 

What DiPole provides to this shift in focus to nanofibers is working with people for whatever level of interest or expertise they’re coming in with and taking their projects from an idea about using something for nanofibers to a reality. Dipole also manufactures BioPaper scaffolds that bring the benefits of nanofiber substrates to the hands of tissue engineers and biologists. And we created PiezoYarn, yarn that generates electricity for wearable sensors simply through being stretched.

We’ve learned a lot about custom projects through our own product development, and we feel pretty comfortable with ideas at all stages of development. We’ve had customers come to us with ideas ranging from published studies to ideas on the back of a napkin and we’ve worked with them to actualize their vision. This can be proof of concept or scaling a proven idea.

We’re really just taking ideas both in academia and industry and bringing them to the rest of the world. You hear quite a bit how nanofibers are the future, but there’s a huge imbalance between how much research there is out there about the benefits of nanofiber technology and actual implementations and applications. DiPole is here to make that happen and move them down the pipeline.

Peering around the corner, do you have a sense what the next five years may look like for industry needs and nanofiber technology?

I think we’re going to keep seeing an influx of research in the cell scaffolding, textile and increasingly so, electronics fields. The need for advanced materials is ever-growing and nanofibers are the next frontier of this field.

Five years down the road you’re going to see a lot more inter-industry collaboration especially as wearable technologies become increasingly important and symbiotic with industries like the Internet of Things. I’d also say we’re going to learn a lot about how nanofibers work in real life and keep iterating.

There will be a lot of researchers who start to look back on their nanofiber research and say “I want to take this into the real world and I want to start a business with this.” That’s where we come in.

Baltimore, our company’s hometown, is a great place for a company like ours since we have such a robust biotech field with Johns Hopkins University, University of Maryland, Baltimore and UMBC. We’ve had great success collaborating with customers on the east coast, from Philadelphia to North Carolina. Dipole is moving forward Baltimore’s two biggest strengths: medical and manufacturing. We’re putting the city front and center in the nanofiber manufacturing eruption.

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