The ageing population, the high expectations for better quality of life and the changing lifestyle of European society call for improved, more efficient and affordable health care.
Nanotechnology can offer impressive resolutions, when applied to medical challenges like cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular problems, inflammatory or infectious diseases.
Experts of the highest level from industry, research centers and academia convened to prepare the present vision regarding future research priorities in NanoMedicine. A key conclusion was the recommendation to set up a European Technology Platform on NanoMedicine designed to strengthen Europe's competitive position and improve the quality of life and health care of its citizens. This article has been extracted from the vision paper “European Technology Platform on NanoMedicine - Nanotechnology for Health” produced by the European Commission.
Disease areas which can be expected to benefit most from nanotechnology within the next 10 years are cancer, diseases of the cardiovascular system, the lungs, blood, neurological (especially neurodegenerative) diseases, diabetes, inflammatory/ infectious diseases and orthopaedic problems.
Cancer is a complex disease involving a multitude of molecular and cellular processes, arising as the result of a gradual accumulation of genetic changes in specific cells. Nanotechnology-based highly efficient markers and precise, quantitative detection devices for early diagnosis and for therapy monitoring will have a wide influence in patient management, in improving patient’s quality of life and in lowering mortality rates. Devices capable of bypassing biological barriers to deliver therapeutic agents with accurate timing and at locally high concentrations directly to cancer cells will play a critical role in the development of novel therapeutics.
Applications of nanotechnology to diseases of the cardiovascular system include the non-invasive diagnosis and targeted therapy of atherosclerotic plaque. Devices to monitor thrombotic and haemorrhagic events can have a high impact, e.g. in the diagnosis and treatment of stroke and embolisms. Multifunctional devices could detect events, transmit real-time biological data externally, and deliver anticoagulants or clotting factors while the patient seeks further treatment.
Nanotechnology could also have a large impact in the area of blood purification/decontamination, based on intelligent sorbents and hemocompatible and immuno-tolerated implantable nanodevices, or on novel separation techniques using for example magnetic nanoparticles or carbon nanotubes.
Tissue Repair and Regeneration
Tissue repair and regeneration are other areas where nanotechnology could have great impact. For example, biodegradable nanoparticles which release appropriate growth factors and angiogenic factors could improve the bioengineering of heart or lung tissue or the production of vascular grafts to build functional tissue.
Lung inflammatory disease represents another likely target for diagnosis and therapy utilizing nanotechnology. Therapeutic nanoparticles capable of sensing alveolar function could release drugs only when needed, restricting drug delivery to disease affected areas.
The brain represents one of the most complex systems in biomedicine. With an improved understanding of brain function, nanotechnology offers better diagnosis and treatment for neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Risks and Challenges
The risks and challenges of NanoMedicine comprise issues of toxicity and carcinogenicity, as well as long-term stability and excretion pathways for artificial nanostructures, and technological challenges in molecular manufacturing, quality assurance and eventually, the programmability of nanodevices.
There are challenges in managing the interdisciplinary requirements that span traditional industries.
The experts identified regulatory challenges in the areas of approval times, intellectual property protection and harmonization. As medical technology advances in general, many legal and ethical challenges will also need to be addressed.