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Cancer and Nanotechnology

The NCI Cancer Nanotechnology Plan is a strategic document used by the NCI to guide the nanotechnology and onocoolgy fields in the future.  The 2015 version is downloadable from this page.

Credit: National Cancer Institute

Currently, scientists are limited in their ability to turn promising molecular discoveries into cancer patient benefits. Nanotechnology —the science and engineering of controlling matter, at the molecular scale, to create devices with novel chemical, physical and/or biological properties— can provide technical control and tools to enable the development of new diagnostics, therapeutics, and preventions that keep pace with today’s explosion in knowledge.

Nanotechnology has the potential to radically change how we diagnose and treat cancer. Although scientists and engineers have only recently (ca. 1980's) developed the ability to industrialize technologies at this scale, there has been good progress in translating nano-based cancer therapies and diagnostics into the clinic and many more are in development.

Nanotechnology is the application of materials, functionalized structures, devices, or systems at the atomic, molecular, or macromolecular scales. At these length scales, approximately the 1-100 nanometer range as defined by the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) , unique and specific physical properties of matter exist, which can be readily manipulated for a desired application or effect. Furthermore, nanoscale structure can be used as individual entities or integrated into larger material components, systems, and architectures.

Nanoscale devices are one hundred to ten thousand times smaller than human cells.  The depiction displays this scale in size.

Credit: National Cancer Institute

This emerging field involves scientists from many different disciplines, including physicists, chemists, engineers, information technologists, and material scientists, as well as biologists. Nanotechnology is being applied to almost every field imaginable, including electronics, magnetics, optics, information technology, materials development and biomedicine. Nanotechnology-based structures and devices are already enabling a large number of novel applications in various fields – including medicine.

  • Benefits of Nanotechnology for Cancer

    Nanotechnology offers many possible benefits to cancer therapy, detection and diagnosis. The benefits begin by way of the fundamental properties of nanotechnology and the biological challenges of which it can help to overcome.

  • Earlier Detection and Diagnosis

    In cancer, half the battle is won by its earlier detection and enhanced diagnosis. Furthmore, tools to enable precise monitoring of patient response to therapy can optimize therapy and improve patient outcomes. Find out how nanotechnology is and will continue to offer powerful solutions to these areas.

  • Treatment and Therapy

    Nanotechnology offers the means to target therapies directly and selectively to cancerous cells and neoplasms. With these tools, clinicians can safely and effectively deliver chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and the next generation of immuno- and gene therapies to the tumor. Futhermore, surgical resection of tumors can be guided and enhanced by way of nanotechnology tools. Find out how nanotechnology will offer the next generation of our therapeutic arsenal to the patient.

  • Current Nanotechnology Treatments

    As far back as 1995, nanotechnology has offered clinicians novel tools to treat patients. Find a list of the currently approved nano-enabled therapeutics here.

  • Safety of Nanotechnology Cancer Treatment

    Nanotechnology is a powerful tool for combating cancer. NCI's Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer is continuously testing the safety of this new technology.

  • Nanotechnology Clinical Trials

    Nanotechnology continues to progress into the clinic with more advanced tools than before and for more clinical indications or tumor types. Find a list of current clinical trials actively recruiting patients for these novel solutions.