Nanomedicine Roadmap Initiative Information Meeting
January 27, 2006, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland
Purpose and Agenda
Nanomedicine refers to highly specific medical intervention, at a scale of less than about 100 nanometers, where biological molecular complexes form the basis of systems that provide structure, control, signaling, homeostasis, and motility in cells. There have been many advances in both the physical and biological sciences over the past several years that make nanomedicine research particularly attractive at this time. For example, new tools are being developed that permit imaging of structure, high speed measurement of the dynamic behavior of molecular assemblies, and measurement of forces at the molecular scale. These advances are complemented, on the biological side, by our knowledge of the human genome and a greater understanding of the molecular pathology of some diseases.
Several other research efforts across the NIH in nanotechnology are now under way (http://www.becon.nih.gov/nano.htm). What distinguishes this Nanomedicine Initiative is its long-term focus on characterizing cellular processes and nanoscale molecular complexes and their interactions at a level of precision that has not been achieved to date. This initiative will exploit and build upon research in nanotechnology, and apply it to living cells which contain a multitude of nanoscale structures, such as membrane transporters; processes, such as self-assembly of protein-nucleic acid complexes; and nanomachines, such as molecular motors. Well controlled manipulation of these and other intracellular processes and structures has not yet been achieved.
This initiative is now possible because biologists have made stunning progress in describing complex phenomena at the cellular and subcellular level. However, large gaps remain in our knowledge about most of the physical characteristics of cellular components such as their exact quantities and variations, location, timescales, interactions, affinities, force generation, flexibility and internal motion. Progress, using analytical models of molecular interactions already in hand, is stymied by this lack of information. More comprehensive models describing cellular structures and associations will be developed by using the knowledge gained from such precise quantitative physical measurements. To do so, new physical methods, instruments, and tools must be developed. In addition, computational tools for data collection, storage, analysis and dissemination must be refined. In examining the long-term horizon, we expect that the next level of investigation will identify and define the design principles and operational parameters of naturally occurring nanostructures and complexes in cells. This knowledge will lead us to develop strategies and fabrication methods to build nanostructures, assemblies, and systems that ultimately will lead to specific control of various individual cellular components in order to treat disease or repair damaged tissue.