Innovative Science Programs: Nanomedicine (joint with the College)
With a great depth of expertise both at the Medical Center and on River Campus, nanomedicine as an innovative scientific program provides a perfect fit with current capabilities at the University of Rochester. Though the devices are tiny, the impact of nanotechnology on human health is expected to be huge. Like all the innovative scientific programs, nanomedicine has the potential to improve many medical areas, including cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
Nanomedicine has the potential to have an impact on many types of patients. New materials could make possible the detection of cancerous tumors far smaller than those caught today. Critically ill patients suddenly hospitalized with an aggressive food-borne infection such as salmonella could be treated immediately with an antibiotic known to be effective. Nanomaterials already are being used to provide the scaffolding for the growth of new tissue, providing a new way to regenerate nerves, bones, and other vital tissues.
The new program brings together in a formal way – with the creation of the Center for Nanotechnologies Applied to Medicine – more than a dozen faculty members who have been working in a loose confederation for nearly a decade. The program combines the expertise in materials science through several departments of the College and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, with the close involvement of medical professionals who are exploring the health implications of the new research. The program also taps into the world’s foremost group investigating the potential health issues of materials the world has never before seen.
The economic stakes are high: The Federal government has plowed more than $2 billion in recent years into technologies based on devices just a tiny fraction of the width of a human hair, and New York State has added at least $500 million. Already half a dozen spin-off companies have been created based on the University’s nanotechnology research findings. While nanotechnology research overall has boomed, its applications to improve human health provides a rich, largely untapped opportunity. Ten additional senior investigators are expected to join the Medical Center as part of the nanomedicine initiative, with additional hires through the College.
Already under development at the University are implantable devices that can “read” or detect details of the incredibly complex environment that buffets our blood cells as they course through our bodies, and then snag specific cells of interest to treat conditions such as cancer, heart disease, or severe infections. While doctors have treated these conditions for centuries, the advent of nanomedicine is bringing about the types of new tools that just recently weren’t even on a clinician’s wish list.
Some specific areas within biomedicine where nanotechnology is especially promising include:
- Imaging. New techniques for imaging open up whole new vistas for seeing the vascular system in unparalleled detail, as well as offering greater resolution of cancerous tumors. Nanomaterials that bind to specific types of cells, such as those from prostate or breast cancer, would allow doctors to identify even the smallest clusters of cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body.
- Sensing and diagnostics. The technology offers new ways to detect organisms such as bacteria, viruses, or antibodies; it might be used, for example, to detect any of dozens of types of bacteria, nearly instantly, in a patient.
- Drug delivery. Nanomedicine extends the trend toward rational drug design, making it possible to develop even more targeted drug delivery systems designed against very specific molecules or types of molecular machinery. The more specific the target, the less the risk of unwanted side effects in, for example, a patient who has had a hip replacement, or a patient fighting an auto-immune disorder like multiple sclerosis. Nanotechnology has already given thousands of women with breast cancer a new treatment option, allowing doctors to use a compound that previously was considered too toxic for most patients.
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