What if doctors in Kenya could equip cells of the retina with photoswitches that can be flipped on, essentially making blind nerve cells see and restoring light sensitivity in people with degenerative blindness? What if public health workers in Bangladesh could place contaminated water into transparent bottles, which when placed in direct sunlight could disinfect the water and help prevent water-borne diseases like cholera, dysentery or polio?
What if a medical technician in Vietnam could use a tiny “reporter” molecule that attaches itself to specific bacteria or viruses in a patient sample and read with an inexpensive laser device - no bigger than a briefcase - whether an infectious disease is present? What if a nurse in Brazil could dispense a gel that would stick to the AIDS virus surface like molecular Velcro and prevent it from attacking healthy cells in sexually active women?
These scenarios are not science fiction. They are just a few examples of the exciting potential of nanomedicine - an offshoot of nanotechnology which researchers in both industrialized and developing countries hail as enabling the next big breakthroughs in medicine and which they promise to change virtually every facet of health care, disease control and prevention. Several of the projects being financed by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s $450 million Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative involve nanotechnology, including development of a nanoemulsion-based vaccine delivery system that uses a simple nasal swab rather than an injection.
What is nanotechnology? How is nanotechnology expected to transform medicine and health care in the future? How can nanomedicine help the truly needy in developing countries? And what are the challenges of ensuring that nanotechnology meets the specific health needs of Third World peoples? These questions are the focus of an event and live webcast on Tuesday, February 27th at 12:00 p.m. in the 5th Floor Conference Room of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars