Credit: By Neil Brake, Vanderbilt University

What is the NanoMedicine Network?
The Institute of Nanotechnology, Europe's major nanotechnology information centre, has identified the importance of bringing together key players in nanomedicine, providing them with a means of networking with each other, and involving them in the development of future research programmes and projects. As a result, the Nanomedicine Network has been launched with the aim of reflecting and reporting upon the interests of its members and visitors.

What is NanoMedicine?

Nanomedicine is the application of nanotechnology to health. It exploits the novel physical, chemical and biological properties of materials at the nanometer range. Nanomedicine has potential impact on the prevention, early and reliable diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Techniques towards ultra-high spatial resolution, molecular resolution and ultra-high sensitivity will provide a better understanding of the cell’s complex “machinery” in basic research. The resulting progress should pave the way to more innovative and powerful in-vivo diagnostics tools.

The aim of nanomedicine may be broadly defined as the comprehensive monitoring, repair and improvement of all human biological systems, working from the molecular level using engineered devices and nanostructures to achieve medical benefit. In general terms nanotechnology will have great impact on the methodologies.

The key elements of nanotechnology applied to nanomedicine are:

  • The use of analytical tools and devices to bring a better understanding of the molecular basis of disease, patient predisposition and response to therapy, and to allow imaging at the molecular, cellular and patient levels.
  • The design of nano-sized multifunctional therapeutics and drug delivery systems to yield more effective therapies.

Nanomedical developments range from nanoparticles for molecular diagnostics, imaging and therapy to integrated medical nanosystems, which may perform complex repair actions at the cellular level inside the body in the future. The most important medical areas where nanotechnology will have a great impact as identified by the European Science Foundation and the European Union are:

The main goal of nanodiagnostics is to identify diseases at a very early stage at the level of a single cell. Nanotechnology can provide tools for better sensitivity, specificity and reliability. It also offers the possibility to take different measurements in parallel or to integrate several analytical steps from sample preparation to detection into a single miniaturized device. The use of nanoelectronics will improve the sensitivity of sensors based on already established methods. Nanotechnology will improve the microscopic and spectroscopic techniques to achieve ultra-high spatial resolution, molecular resolution and ultra-high sensitivity which will provide a better understanding of the cell’s complex mechanisms in basic research. Molecular imaging, aims to create highly sensitive, highly reliable detection agents that can also deliver and monitor therapy. The find, fight and follow concept of early diagnosis, therapy and therapy control will take a new turn with developments in nanotechnology.
Targeted Drug Delivery and Controlled Release
The drug delivery systems enabled by nanotechnology aims to target selected cells or receptors in the body. Nanoformulations which make use of enlarged surface/volume ratio for enhanced reactivity and nanoparticles that can be used as drug carriers will improve the present targeted delivery systems reducing the costs and increasing the patient acceptance. When a drug is suitably encapsulated, in nanoparticulate form, it can be delivered to the appropriate site, released in a controlled way and protected from undergoing premature degradation. These kinds of controlled release techniques enabled by nanotechnology will have less side effects and high efficiency which can be successfully used for the treatment of cancer and wide range of other diseases. Convergence of electronics and controlled releasing techniques are paving way to a new kind of drug delivering technique which has the ability to release drugs on demand. A future vision is that nanoparticles will carry therapeutic payloads or genetic content into diseased cells, minimizing side effects as the nanoparticles will only become active upon reaching their ultimate destination. They may even check for over dosage before becoming active, thus preventing drug released poisoning.
Regenerative Medicine
Regenerative medicine aims to work with the body’s own repair mechanisms to prevent and treat disabling chronic diseases such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, and degenerative disorders of the cardiovascular and central nervous system and to help victims of disabling injuries. Nanotechnology has established a cellular and molecular basis for the development of innovative disease-modifying therapies for in-situ tissue regeneration and repair, requiring only minimally invasive surgery. Nanotechnology will help the future therapeutic methods which will be designed to rectify chronic conditions using the body’s own healing mechanisms. Nanotechnology can play a pivotal role in the development of cost-effective therapies for in-situ tissue regeneration. The basic elements of importance in this new ‘nanobiomimetic’ strategy are intelligent biomaterials, bioactive signalling molecules, and cells. The biomaterials are designed to respond to the changes in the immediate environment stimulating regenerative events at molecular level. The sequential signalling triggers the regenerative events at the cellular level which is necessary for the fabrication and repair of cells. Regenerative medicine also aims to effectively exploit the enormous self-repair potential that has been observed in adult stem cells. Nanotechnology will help to identify signalling systems, in order to leverage the self-healing potential of endogenous adult stem cells and to develop efficient targeting systems for stem cell therapies.