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September 14, 2004 • Volume 1 / Number 35 E-Mail This Document  |  Download PDF  |  Bulletin Archive/Search  |  Subscribe

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Director's Update

Realizing the Promise of Nanotechnology

Yesterday marked the official launch of the NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer, an initiative that I believe could be a transformational event that moves the science of nanotechnology from a promising medical application to a central component in a new era in the diagnosis, monitoring, prevention, and treatment of cancer. When combined with the strides we have made in understanding cancer at the genetic, cellular, and molecular levels, nanotechnology may provide a whole new category of interventions that were not envisioned even 5 to 10 years ago.

The potential uses of nanodevices are staggering. Early research indicates, for instance, that nanosystems may allow for real-time assessments of therapeutic and surgical procedures, enabling clinicians to rapidly determine whether a treatment is working. Other work has shown the ability of targeted nanodevices to elude biological blockades and transport high concentrations of multiple therapeutics directly to cancer cells and the tissues in their immediate microenvironment. In this way, not only are healthy cells spared, but malignant cells and their allies in metastasis are eliminated. Nanotechnology also is making existing technologies more effective. In research presented at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting in March, for example, NCI researchers presented results from work in mice that showed that a nanoscale contrast agent vastly enhanced the ability of MRI to detect breast cancer lymph node metastases.

The NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer was formed to fulfill this technology's promise. Through this initiative, NCI will support three to five centers of excellence in cancer nanotechnology that will operate as a consortium. The establishment of these centers will be a competitive process during which we will place a premium on the development of crossdisciplinary teams that partner with existing NCI-supported efforts and the private sector.

In addition to the centers of excellence, the nanotechnology platforms for cancer research will enable development of individual projects using the R01 grant mechanism. Development of multidisciplinary teams will train researchers to apply nanotechnology expertise to cancer research and clinical oncology questions. Finally, we are establishing a program that will make nanomaterials and nanoscale devices available to researchers, thus hastening applications with the greatest promise into clinical use.

We are pursuing nanotechnology because of its inherent promise to speed progress toward eliminating the suffering and death due to cancer. As such, we have built into this initiative processes for reducing or eliminating barriers to success. For example, we are collaborating with the FDA to ensure that new nanotech-based interventions are developed in such a way that they can move swiftly through the regulatory process.

NCI has also entered into a memorandum of understanding with NIST, a world leader in nanotechnology, that will provide the framework for training, the formation of interdisciplinary research teams, and the rapid transfer of new interventions from the research lab to the marketplace.

This effort is not a blind leap into unfamiliar territory. On the contrary, NCI is already a leader in conducting and funding nanotechnology research. In addition, NCI was the lead NIH institute in a review of nanotechnology under the Government Performance and Results Act. This initiative is the next logical step for NCI to fulfill the promise of nanotechnology and the investment we have already made in it. Beyond that, however, this effort is just one part of our broader investment in technologies - an investment that I believe will help improve and save many lives, and not just from cancer, but from many diseases.

Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach
Director, National Cancer Institute