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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > UAlbany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering > Nano Meets Medicine and Public Health

Sara Brenner
CNSE Assistant Vice President for NanoHealth Initiatives & CNSE Assistant Professor of Nanobioscience
UAlbany College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering

The revolutionary potential of nanotechnology to improve health through enhanced screening, diagnosis, and treatment of disease currently being explored in an emerging field called "nanomedicine." Medicine has been heralded as one of the most influential fields for the application of nanotechnology in the 21st century. In addition to clinical interventions and treatments, the potential to improve the early detection and prevention of disease is profound. Along with tremendous opportunity comes the responsibility to carefully consider the population-based and public health impacts of nanotechnologies as they are deployed in health care, consumer goods, and the environment.

October 17th, 2009

Nano Meets Medicine and Public Health

The emerging science, engineering, and application of nanotechnologies to biological systems are undergoing rapid expansion in the U.S. and abroad. The last few years have yielded unprecedented advances in biotechnology, including chip-based detection methods and human genome sequencing. Nanotechnology applications in medicine and public health will lead to revolutionary advances in targeted drug delivery, imaging, diagnostics, implant technology, regenerative medicine, anti-cancer therapies, infectious disease control, and personalized medicine. Not only does the future hold promise of advances in medical interventions and treatments, but also for the early detection and prevention of disease and illness.

Nanotechnology has the potential to revolutionize the screening, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, giving rise to an emerging discipline called "nanomedicine." Research efforts in nanomedicine, such as those underway in the Nanobioscience Constellation at the UAlbany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE), are being rapidly developed at the benchtop and are now reaching clinical trials and patients. Examples of current medical applications include novel chip-based technologies for diagnostics and high-throughput screening, nanopharmaceuticals, BioMEMS, protein nanoarrays, nanogenomics, enhanced contrast agents to improve radiological imaging, nanofluidics, engineered nanostructures for cell and tissue scaffolds, nano-enabled devices for optics, and quantum dots for imaging.

Symbiotic with medical applications is the understanding of health, safety, and environmental impacts of engineered nanomaterials. As the first physician on CNSE's faculty, with specialization in preventive medicine and public health, my research targets a series of NanoHealth initiatives and research strategies that seek to establish a systematic understanding of the occupational and environmental health and safety implications and effects associated with the unique characteristics of nanoparticles. In particular, there is a focus on assessing and mitigating risk, developing reduction strategies for occupational exposures, improving the definition and monitoring of engineered nanomaterials that may impact public and environmental health, and advancing industrial practice standards for product safety and stewardship.

My research team and colleagues are uniquely positioned at CNSE to lay the scientific groundwork for addressing materials and products arising out of new areas of research that combine traditionally distinct disciplines in science and technology (i.e. biology, physics, engineering, medicine, and environmental science) through a distinctive interdisciplinary model for business and research. This research demonstrates a proactive approach to identifying, assessing and monitoring the potential health, safety, and environmental impacts of engineered nanomaterials. NanoHealth initiatives at CNSE set an innovative paradigm for internal monitoring and compliance where screening, surveillance, and research are done in a collaborative partnership within and among academic, government and corporate institutions, as opposed to the traditional enforcement model involving an outside regulatory entity. Health and safety impacts and concerns are investigated and addressed during the research and development stage of nanoelectronics production, which serves to significantly advance the knowledge of exposures to and health outcomes associated with engineered nanomaterials while advancing the technology in a socially responsible way.

Clinical as well as epidemiological assessment of nanotechnology allows for the analysis of health determinants, goals, and outcomes as they relate to both individuals and populations. It is important not only to investigate the question ‘does the application of this technology improve health outcomes?' but also the critical question, ‘for whom does this technology improve health outcomes?' In the era of personalized medicine, we must demonstrate and validate the use of nanotechnology for individuals and groups based on pertinent physical, medical, and biological characteristics. These considerations, as well as the public policy, societal, and ethical implications, are critical elements in guiding future applications of nanotechnology in medicine and health.

Dr. Brenner's bio:

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