What is Nanomedicine?
This section aims at explaining what is Nanomedicine, which medical applications are targeted, what are the benefits from using nanotechnologies in these fields and how the European research community is structured to support Nanomedicine.
The ETPN together with the NANOMED2020 consortium created a two minutes animated movie explaining in simple terms what is Nanomedicine to the general public and what are the major fields of applications
The potential of Nanomedicine: why is small different?
Nanomedicine is the application of nanotechnology to achieve innovation in healthcare. It uses the properties developed by a material at its nanometric scale 10-9 m which often differ in terms of physics, chemistry or biology from the same material at a bigger scale.
Moreover, the nanometric size is also the scale of many biological mechanisms in the human body allowing nanoparticles and nanomaterials to potentially cross natural barriers to access new sites of delivery and to interact with DNA or small proteins at different levels, in blood or within organs, tissues or cells.
At the nano-scale, the surface-to-volume ratio is such that the surface properties are becoming an intrinsic parameter of the potential actions of a particle or material. Coating of the particles and functionalization of their surfaces (even on multiple levels) are in this way extremely common to increase the biocompatibility of the particle and its circulation time in the blood, as well as to ensure a highly selective binding to the desired target.
Nanomedicine has the potential to enable early detection and prevention and to drastically improve diagnosis, treatment and follow-up of many diseases including cancer but not only. Overall, Nanomedicine has nowadays hundreds of products under clinical trials, covering all major diseases including cardiovascular, neurodegenerative, musculoskeletal and inflammatory. Enabling technologies in all healthcare areas, Nanomedicine is already accounting for approximatively 80 marketed products, ranging from nano-delivery and pharmaceutical to medical imaging, diagnostics and biomaterials.
Nanomedicine impacts all fields of medicine.
Nanomedicine is understood to be a key enabling instrument for personalized, targeted and regenerative medicine by delivering the next level of new drugs, treatments and implantable devices to clinicians and patients, for real breakthroughs in healthcare.
Beyond that, Nanomedicine provides important new tools to deal with the grand challenge of an ageing population and is thought to be instrumental for improved and cost effective healthcare, one crucial factor for making medicines and treatments available and affordable to all.
The challenge of unmet medical needs
Mankind is still fighting against a high number of serious and complex illnesses like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes as well as different kinds of serious inflammatory or infectious diseases (e.g. HIV). Most of theses diseases have a tremendous negative impact not only on the patient himself but also on the whole society and linked social and insurance systems. It is of utmost importance to face these plagues with appropriate means, largely addressed by Nanomedicine applications.
Nanomedicine, raises high expectations for millions of patients for better, more efficient and affordable healthcare and has the potential of delivering promising solutions to many illnesses. From diagnosis to disease monitoring, going through surgery and chemotherapy or regenerative medicine, nanotechnologies virtually impact all fields of current medicine.
Several areas of medical care are already benefiting from the advantages that nanotechnology can offer. The first nanotechnology-based targeted drug delivery systems are already on the market, others are in clinical trials or, by far the largest part, are under development. Another highly attractive area of nanomedicine is diagnostics at nanoscale. The aim is to identify a disease at the earliest possible stage. Ideally already a single cell with ill behavior would be detected and cured or eliminated. New concepts for regenerative medicine give hope to many patients with organ failure or severe injuries. Already today artificial skin, bone and cartilage are in an advanced stage of development and partly already on the market.
Nanomedicine… is nano in medicine!
Like for any breakthrough technology, the promising possibilities that nanomedicine offer in the future have to be counterweighted against risks. Safety of nanomedicine products is regulated exactly like drugs and medical devices, clinically evaluated for their benefit/risk ratio for the patients. As any medical devices or drugs, nanomedicines are strictly regulated and have to follow thorough characterization, toxicity assessment and multi-stage clinical trials evaluating for their benefit/risk ratio before benefiting patients with their whole potential. Nevertheless, it is of utmost importance to examine upfront with care and responsibility all possible side effects to human beings and the environment. Several European projects are already dealing with this highly important issue. Also ethical concerns and social acceptance have to be taken into account.