Tech Forecast: Nanomedicine

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By Guy Mastrion (@gmastrion)

Hey, did you see the trailer for that wild new science fiction movie? The one where robots are the size of cells and you can swallow them, and theyll go to work inside you?

Well, that wasnt actually a movie trailer – but it might have been your evening news…whats it all about?

Nanotechnology is the science – some might say art – of creating and manipulating objects and machines that work on the “nano scale – a nanometer being one billionth of a meter. For comparisons sake, this is the scale on which atoms and molecules are measured. Nanomedicine, it follows, is applying nanotechnology to medicine. While it does sound like the premise for a new sci-fi epic full of computer graphics and swooping 3D, it isnt imaginary. Its real, and its got the potential to revolutionize medicine.

In 2006, Congress created the National Institutes of Health Common Fund to support the highest-priority programs that required combinations of different NIH centers. Nanomedicine is one of their priorities.

What makes nanomedicine more than a cool concept? Just consider a couple of potential applications in oncology.

For starters, nanoparticles may be able to cross the blood-brain barrier. If youre familiar with brain cancer, for instance, you recognize the importance of this. Normally, systemic medications cant affect the tissues of the brain. Nanomedicine could.

Furthermore, cancer diagnosis could be changed completely by nanomedicine. We all know that early detection is key for treatment success and long-term survival – so imagine the benefit if oncologists could detect malignant changes in molecules. Just the idea makes the common experience of tumor diagnosis by naked eye or tactile feel seem almost barbaric.

The promise of nanomedicine may indeed be overstated. Were not exactly living in the world that was forecast by 1984, or even by 2001. Many exciting medical frontiers have had a lot of hyperbole surrounding them. This will probably take longer, cost more, and unearth less, than its proponents have hoped. Even that, though, could change the lives and improve the health of countless people around the world.

For more information on nanomedicine, check out:

http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/nanomedicine
http://www.pharmainfo.net/pharma-student-magazine/nanotechnology-and-it%E2%80%99s-pharmaceutical-applications

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