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Nanomedicine: Big news on a microscopic scale

by Sruthi Valluri, DOTmed News | June 24, 2011
From the June 2011 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Recent budget talks on Capitol Hill have focused national attention on divisive ideological issues. But while Republicans and Democrats nearly shut down the government during their extended standoff, both sides agreed—almost unanimously—on one thing: nanotechnology.

Tucked away in the 2012 federal budget is $2.1 billion earmarked for the National Nanotechnology Initiative, which coordinates nanotechnological research and development across several federal agencies. The budget signifies an increased investment by Congress, marking a 16 percent increase for the NNI from the last year.

Launched in 2000, the NNI began with eight agencies and a paltry budget of $464 million. Now, the NNI is a collective of 25 federal agencies. And as the NNI has grown, so too has its funding—by nearly 300 percent in the past decade.

The federal government’s support and investment could not come at a better time. Dr. Piotr Grodzinski, program director of the NIH’s National Cancer Institute’s Nanotechnology program, says nanotechnology is poised to make a significant difference in the field of medicine.

“There’s quite a bit of potential,” says Grodzinski. “You can entertain possibilities, you have indications of what nanotechnology can bring.”

Although fast growing, nanotechnology is concerned with the smallest of units—the nanometer. As a unit of measurement, the nanometer is a billionth of a meter and is no wider than ten atoms in a row. The Food and Drug Administration defines nanotechnology as anything that operates between 1 and 100 nanometers in length. At this scale, an ant is a million times as large as a single nanoparticle.

History a long time in the making
In recent years, there has been a flurry of research in nanomedicine, especially in cancer therapies and, to a lesser extent, vaccine development. Several initiatives have now entered clinical trials. If previous drug development timelines are any indication, nanopharmaceutical products could be entering the marketplace within the next five to ten years.

This shift towards the microscopic is not new. Nanotechnology has been in existence since the 1800s. Yet, it has largely been confined to electronics and materials engineering. Nanotechnologies most consumers are familiar with include the computer and the black filler in rubber tires. Medical applications, on the other hand, have so far been confined to laboratories.

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