Nanotechnology often is seen as one of the keys to American economic competitiveness, and while the researchers at the National Institutes of Health might not see their mission in that light, the importance of nanotechnology is certainly not lost on the agency.
Leading off the Thursday morning session at NanoWeek 2009, Karen Peterson, PhD, senior advisor to the director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) at NIH, said the theme of nanomedicine for this year's NanoWeek "is a timely topic for the rest of NIH" as well as NIBIB.
Peterson remarked that the definition of "nano" provided by the National Nanotechnology Initiative is not exactly news, but all the same, "there is still a lot of discussion about what nano' is," citing the "strict definition ... of 1 to 100 nanometers," although she pointed out that "in biological applications, the range is wider."
Peterson referred to NIH's "Roadmap for Nanomedicine Initiative" of 2003, which is "building out to eight centers across the U.S." The goal of the initiative "is to understand a system at the nano' scale with sufficient precision" to yield results within 10 years, Peterson said. The novelty of nanoscale materials means that "this is not business as usual at NIH," Peterson acknowledged, and as a consequence, "we use a thing called flexible research authority," to allow a targeted allocation of resources toward projects that hint at great promise.
Nanotech funding at NIH in fiscal 2008 was about $300 million, Peterson said, adding that the National Cancer Institute took a bite of about $96 million out of that pie, while the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute snared roughly $23 million.
"What we really want to accomplish ... is to detect disease before health has deteriorated," Peterson remarked, and to bring forward tissue engineering "to repair or replace worn or damaged body parts." Delivery of therapeutics is, of course, also a great point of interest.
"Nanomedicine as a developing field automatically becomes a field of risk ... and we have to develop a comfort level with that," Peterson stated. The multi-disciplinary approach, however, gets many NIH parties on board and lowers the sensation of risk for everyone involved.
— Mark McCarty, Washington Editor