The Nanomedicine European Technology Platform (ETP) has identified three areas of industrial priority in nanomedicine research: diagnostics including medical imaging; targeted drug delivery; and regenerative medicine. The EU Budget for health research is $9 (€6) billion over 7 years (2007 – 2013) including Nanomedicine and Nanobiology.
Nanomedicine is the application of nanotechnology to health. It can improve quality of life by enabling true preventive medicine and precisely targeted intervention, as well as regenerative therapy. Nanomedicine works on the basis of producing man-made functional structures matching the typical size of natural biological elements, to achieve more effective and specific interactions. This approach has much potential for breakthroughs in basic, applied and clinical sciences, leading to more efficient and targeted diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of disease. This is relevant to the treatment of a wide variety of diseases from cancer to diabetes; cardiovascular, immunological, inflammatory, musculoskeletal and neurodegenerative disorders (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases); and infectious diseases. It can moreover enhance competitiveness by creating jobs with high added value; and in the longer term by reducing social care costs and leading to affordable healthcare for an ageing population.
European Nanomedicine Projects include:
VIBRANT: Around 30 million people in Europe currently suffer from diabetes, with an incidence of 7.5 % in Member States. This devastating disease is ranked among the leading causes of fatal cardiovascular diseases, kidney failure, neuropathy, lower limb amputation and blindness. At present, no clinically established methodology exists for non-invasive in vivo imaging and quantification of insulin-producing beta-cells in the pancreas, whose dysfunction is responsible for diabetes. VIBRANT proposes a new nanotechnology-based method for the MRI imaging of beta-cells. Furthermore, target-specific drug-loaded nano-containers will offer high potential for cell-directed therapies.
CAREMAN: Diagnostic devices based on biosensor technology coupled with detection capabilities and integrated sample handling aim to tackle the most common diagnostic problems currently faced in EU hospitals – such as cardiovascular diseases, coagulation disorders, chronic and acute inflammation, cancer and thyroid disorders. The innovative solutions that these devices introduce may lead to the eventual replacement of traditional diagnostic techniques.
ASMENA: The development of new medicinal products is currently hindered by difficulties related to the reliability and efficiency of screening membrane proteins as candidate drug targets, despite their constituting more than 5 % of all drug targets. A new nanotechnology, combining nano-porous substrates and proteoliposome self-assembly, promises to deliver a sensor chip to quantify screening assays of drug candidates that may be suitable for commercial application.
SONODRUGS: By allowing drugs to be delivered to disease sites via the patient’s bloodstream and then activated by focused ultrasound pulses, the project aims to maximize the therapeutic efficiency and minimize the side effects of drug treatments for cancer and cardiovascular disease. The project’s research on MRI-guided drug delivery will focus on potential treatments for cancer. It aims to develop MRI techniques that simultaneously image the patient’s anatomy, detect the arrival of MRI-labeled drug-loaded particles at the disease site, measure the local heating effect of the ultrasound pulses, and monitor the temperature triggered release of drugs from the particles.
NANOEAR: This project aims to develop therapies for inner ear disorders, using novel multifunctional nanoparticles that are targetable to selected cell populations for controllable drug release.
NANOSCALE: Understanding the physical and chemical events at the nanoscale, which occur during the interaction of several cell types (including neurons and stem cells) with nanostructures, is of paramount importance for the fabrication of biocompatible surfaces to induce stem cell proliferation and differentiation, and to guide neuronal growth.
TEM-PLANT: This project aims to use hierarchical structures that naturally exist in plants, to generate innovative biomedical devices designed for bone and ligament substitution. This leads to the development of intricate but extremely functional architectures, which are constantly able to adapt to ever-changing mechanical needs.
Another emerging area of relevance for nanomedicine is the convergence of biological, information and cognitive sciences. One example is the interface between nanoscale systems, neurons and the brain, which is important for the development of intelligent brain-controlled prostheses, such as arms, legs, hands, ears and eyes. Even though this area is not considered to be of immediate industrial relevance, it has been addressed by some EU-funded projects (e.g. NEURONANO, SMARTHAND, DREAMS and NANOBIOTACT).