This issue, Nano Today focuses on the topic of drug delivery, and in particular the increasingly promising role of nanotechnology in diagnosing and treating disease.

As pointed out by Ruth Duncan of the UK's Cardiff University in her article ‘Nanomedicine gets clinical’ (page 16), nanomedicine is, on the one hand, a relatively new discipline with barely any agreement on its definition. But, on the other hand, it is also an area where some of the constituent technologies have been in development for many years. Indeed, some are already in use to treat patients, with regulatory authorities increasingly approving products for clinical application.

On page 18 of this issue, Tarek Fahmy and colleagues at Yale University give an overview of how nanoparticles can potentially be used to carry active drugs and, when coupled with targeting ligands, fulfill many attributes of the long-sought-after ‘magic bullet’ for increased efficacy of a drug in targeting a particular disease at a particular site in the body. On page 28, Gloria J. Kim and Shuming Nie of Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology focus on specific new agents and delivery technologies for cancer nanotherapy, using nanoparticles linked with tumor-targeting molecule segments for the high-precision targeting of cancer-specific receptors, tumor antigens, and tumor vasculatures. On page 34, Martin C. Woodle and Patrick Y. Lu of Intradigm Corporation assess the use of modular conjugates to construct nanoparticle systems for nucleic acid delivery that are beginning to emulate the sophistication of virus particles. Combined with selective gene inhibitors, such targeted nanoparticles offer the prospect of multi-targeted therapeutics.

The level of interest focused on the possibilities presented by the application of nanotechnology to healthcare is also evidenced by the announcement of new funding awards for research aimed at diagnosing and treating disease. For example, on page 13 of the news section we report the announcement by the US National Institutes of Health's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the recipients of three of its four $11-13 million awards in its Program of Excellence in Nanotechnology (the first of which, coincidentally, goes to Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology). While these focus predominantly on nanocardiology, the technologies that are developed should also spin off to the diagnosis and treatment of other diseases.

Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Heath's Nanomedicine Roadmap Initiative (launched last year) is supporting the formation of Nanomedicine Development Centers, which will initially focus on examining intracellular function so that nanoscale tools and synthetic biological devices can be developed that will correct biological defects in unhealthy cells. The locations for the centers are due to be announced in September.

For a ‘new’ technology that has actually existed for many years, developments such as the targeted delivery of designer drugs provide opportunities to demonstrate the enormous potential benefits of nanotechnology to the public and to counteract any lingering, unfounded fears fostered by scenarios of self-replicating nanobots taking over the ecosphere. As Richard Jones points out in his Opinion article (page 56), the possibility is not one of using mechanical engineering principles with hard materials – transferred from the macroscale to nanoscale – to replace and improve on biology, but of using nanotechnology with soft biomaterials to complement biology, as well as applying biological principles to improve nanotechnology. This specific topic of bionanotechnology will be examined in greater depth in the next issue of Nano Today.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(05)71010-5