"Children are not small adults"—pediatricians say that's what makes their specialty different from the practice of medicine in adults. For similar reasons, researchers exploring the medical uses of nanotechnology believe that the use of molecular-level nanomedicine techniques in children will also require its own specialty.
In their annual supplement for 2010, the editors of Pediatric Research present some of the research that will form the basis of the emerging field of "nanopediatrics." The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health, a leading provider of information and business intelligence for students, scientists, professionals, and institutions in medicine, nursing, allied health, and pharmacy.
Edward R.B. McCabe, M.D., Ph.D., of David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, is Guest Editor of the special supplement. "Nanotechnology and nanomedicine are anticipated to be major drivers of personalized medicine," he writes in an introductory article. "It is essential that we focus the power of these technologies to enable personalized medicine for children, in a specialty of NanoPediatrics."
Initial Studies in Nanopediatrics Look at Diagnosis, Treatment, and More
The papers in the special issue highlight the potential uses of molecular-level nanotechnology to promote children's health in a variety of areas, including disease diagnosis. Nanotechnology could detect subtle DNA abnormalities for rapid, point-of-care diagnosis of genetic-related conditions. Molecular thermometry techniques could detect very small changes in temperature down to the subcellular level, aiding in early detection of tumors or infections. The issue also outlines the development of combined diagnostic and treatment techniques, called "theranostics," which may one day enable diagnosis and treatment of cancers in a single procedure.
New approaches to detect and identify antibiotics in milk illustrate the potential for nanotechnology to enhance food safety. "Nanoinformatics" and DNA-based computing could revolutionize processing of medical information, promoting the clinical uses of nanomedicine. Nanoparticles are being used to study the role of calcification in various diseases, illustrating the use of nanotechnology to advance understanding of how diseases develop.
Several papers in the special supplement describe possible uses of nanomedicine techniques for the treatment of diseases in children:
- "Nano-modified" coatings could help to prevent infection of ventilator tubes in children undergoing mechanical ventilation.
- Designer molecules called "Protacs" could be used to disrupt the growth of cancer cells, providing new approaches to cancer treatment.
- Tissue engineering techniques could be used to grow new organs, including bladders for children with congenital bladder dysfunction.
- Anticancer drugs encapsulated in "flexible delivery vehicles" known as liposomes, could provide highly targeted new approaches to cancer treatment.
Some of these proposed applications may sound like science fiction, and all are in their infancy. However, they point to some of the ways in which nanotechnology could be used to address the unique health challenges of children within the foreseeable future. We would hope that, a decade from now, this field will have grown so as to fill a thick volume with accomplishments in the discipline of nanopediatrics.