Nanotechnology and Medicine
Often hailed as a revolutionary new technology, nanotechnology has the potential to impact almost every area of society.
Nanotechnology involves manipulating properties and structures at the nanoscale, often involving dimensions that are just tiny fractions of the width of a human hair. Nanotechnology is already being used in products in its passive form, such as cosmetics and sunscreens, and it is expected that in the coming decades, new phases of products, such as better batteries and improved electronics equipment, will be developed and have far-reaching implications.
One area of nanotechnology application that holds the promise of providing great benefits for society in the future is in the realm of medicine. Nanotechnology is already being used as the basis for new, more effective drug delivery systems and is in early stage development as scaffolding in nerve regeneration research. Moreover, the National Cancer Institute has created the Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer in the hope that investments in this branch of nanomedicine could lead to breakthroughs in terms of detecting, diagnosing, and treating various forms of cancer.
Nanotechnology medical developments over the coming years will have a wide variety of uses and could potentially save a great number of lives. Nanotechnology is already moving from being used in passive structures to active structures, through more targeted drug therapies or “smart drugs.” These new drug therapies have already been shown to cause fewer side effects and be more effective than traditional therapies. In the future, nanotechnology will also aid in the formation of molecular systems that may be strikingly similar to living systems. These molecular structures could be the basis for the regeneration or replacement of body parts that are currently lost to infection, accident, or disease. These predictions for the future have great significance not only in encouraging nanotechnology research and development but also in determining a means of oversight. The number of products approaching the FDA approval and review process is likely to grow as time moves forward and as new nanotechnology medical applications are developed.
To better understand current and future applications of nanotechnology in various fields of medicine, the project has developed two web-based resources that track medical developments focused on cancer and drug delivery systems.
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- Current Medical Applications Many of these already commercialized products are not available directly to the consumer. Instead, they are employed by researchers involved in drug discovery, physicians in need of better imaging techniques, and as prescriptions to treat particular kinds of illness. A direct web link to each of these commercialized products is also provided.
- Commercialization Timelines The two timelines below illustrate estimated commercialization time frames for a select set of nanotechnology drugs, delivery systems, diagnostic tests and devices that are currently being developed—from applications that are in early stage development to applications that are already in latter stages of clinical trials.
The 2006 Nanomedicine, Device & Diagnostics Report, released by NanoBiotech News, emphasized the importance of nanotechnology cancer research by reporting that experts predict that one of the most immediate nanotechnology related medical developments will be focused on cancer. NanoBiotech News compiled data on a wide range of applications that includes over 130 nano-based drugs and delivery systems, as well as 125 devices or diagnostic tests.