Special report: Mining for medical gold

by Sruthi Valluri, DOTmed News | September 28, 2011
By offering a multi-modal platform, nanodiamonds would offer a new way to treat and diagnose patients. “They are the perfect carrier,” says Meade. “We can now make smarter, target-specific products that are more efficient. There is no limit to what nanoparticles can do.”

Baby steps for a medical revolution
Although research in the field is steadily growing, the specialty is still in its infancy. Very few ventures have transitioned from the lab bench to clinical settings, and even fewer are close to receiving FDA approval. But given nanotechnology’s potential, Meade believes that this is bound to change in the near future.

“The landscape is changing,” explains Meade. “But it will take a while to get this to a doctor’s office. Whenever new technology comes out, people are going to be anxious.”

Dr. Daniel S. Kohane, a senior associate in critical care medicine at Boston’s Children’s Hospital, compares nanotechnology to the field of chemistry four hundred years ago. Like nanotechnology, chemistry held immense potential and eventually, it changed the world, but not without a few obstacles.

No limits – except for some challenges
In March 2011, Kohane and his colleagues conducted a review of nanotechnology and its implications in surgery. And that was just the tip of the iceberg, explains Kohane.

“There really are no limits,” says Kohane, an associate professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School. “And given the range of particle sizes, you can imagine what this field can accomplish.”

But to begin with, researchers will have to overcome lingering concerns regarding the safety of nanotechnology. “It’s the black box of nanotechnology,” Kohane says. “We don’t know what their toxicity is, and what they will do in the body.”

Currently, several research groups are conducting larger animal safety studies to investigate how nanoparticles are removed from the body. According to Ho, these studies will hold the key to addressing some of the safety concerns. “Different nanoparticles perform differently. Even the same material has different properties in different environments,” says Ho. “So we need to examine each one carefully before we move ahead.”

From an investor’s standpoint, researchers will also have to show that nanotechnology has a favorable cost-benefit ratio. “We need to prove that we can indeed make reproducible, new material, that give us advantages that we can get no other way,” says Meade. National initiatives like the NIH’s National Cancer Institute’s Nanotechnology program have played a large role in moving research towards clinical settings and the market.

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