Nanoscience and the implications for medicine has recently been the focus of the US National Institutes of Health who have highlighted three key areas for the future of nanomedicine: structures and devices whose small size-between 1 and 100 nm-confers novel properties that have applications in disease diagnosis, treatment, or prevention; the manufacture of devices to identify nanosize entities of medical importance; and nanoscale biological systems that might have clinical applications.
The potential benefits of nanomedicine are outlined: 'Nanoparticles and nanocapsules could be effective delivery systems for drug and gene therapies. Nanostructures offer novel means for body or organ imaging. Nanotweezers and surgical tools only a few nanometres thick are already in development. Nanoprobes may be able to add diagnostic specificity to biopsy studies. And on the margins of nanoscience, there are even suggestions that nanorobots will be able to travel through the body searching out and clearing up diseases, such as a arterial atheromatous plaque.'
The American National Science Foundation estimates that the nanomedicine market could be worth $1 trillion by 2015. Despite the enthusiasm, nanomedicine has its opponents. The editorial comments: 'The public is again witnessing a deeply polarised debate between uncritical techno-enthusiasts and those who prefer more apocalyptic visions of the future.
The techno-pessimists are using widely held fears about genetically modified organisms (GMO)-they talk of "atomically modified organisms" in nanoscience circles-to exploit modern anxieties about the applications of science in society.'
Concluding that nanomedicine is a valuable new technology for human health, THE LANCET is calling for a higher profile in medicine for this new discipline. The editorial closes with a call to arms in nanomedicine research:' Given the extraordinary possibilities that nanoscience opens up for medicine, The Lancet calls for the submission of research articles, reviews, viewpoints, and hypothesis papers in the field of nanomedicine, as defined by NIH. The closing date for submissions is Dec 31, 2003. A theme issue of the journal is being planned for the spring of 2004.'