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Posted: June 4, 2010

Nanomedicine in The Netherlands - new report

(Nanowerk News) Nanotechnology promises employment, sustainability and health. The Dutch government invests heavily in it. But how do we achieve these promises? In preparation for a parliamentary debate about nanotechnology on 21 April 2010, the Rathenau Institute initiated a working visit of MPs to one of the most promising areas of its application: healthcare.
The note Nanomedicine in the Netherlands sets out the promises, challenges and issues surrounding 'nanomedicine'.
Why nano?
Bacteria, viruses, unhealthy diet or lifestyle, and errors in the genetic code, They all make us sick in different ways. But they also have one thing in common: they all operate at the molecular level. Nanotechnology manipulates and analyses matter at this level and therefore promises groundbreaking insights and solutions. Nanomedicine fits into a long tradition of medical science to search for biological mechanisms of disease at deepening physiological levels. According to researchers and developers, this knowledge shall lead to earlier detection, more accurate treatment of diseases and new treatments such as artificial organs.
Nanotechnology also offers possibilities for the miniaturisation of various medical devices and their integration with (wireless) ICT. Diagnosis and treatment can take place outside the laboratory or clinic, even at the patient's home. Continuous monitoring of health seems to be within reach, also for healthy people.1 In short, nanotechnology promises a wave of new research areas in medicine and new applications for healthcare.
A long-term task
The ambitions for nanomedicine are high. "A revolution in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of many chronically debilitating diseases", Dutch nano-scientists claimed in 2007. No small task - the researchers anticipate twenty years development time. Even with the good starting position for nanomedicine in The Netherlands a strong electronics sector and high quality life science research it will be a long term task to fulfil its promises.
At the end of 2009, the government continued its financial support of research and development through the proposed High Tech Systems & Materials (HTS&M) initiative of the Economic Structure Enhancing Fund (FES). This funding is used for research for understanding the causes of the emergence of diseases and translation into functional nanomaterials, nano-electronic devices and artificial molecular machines. But the clinical value of these new applications needs to be demonstrated. Bottlenecks are discussed in this note.
Once developed, nanomedical applications can also present big challenges. Consider the commitment to prevention made by molecular imaging which has stimulated the growing exchange of detailed health information and increased opportunities for self-management patient care. We therefore look at the trends and their implications for the patient in this note as well.
Orientation Towards the Future
Nanotechnology promises to give key support to future health care such as the comprehensive ideal of "PPP Medicine": predictive, preventive and personalised. Timely and tailored intervention improves quality of care and life. A fourth element is often added as well: participatory. Care should be organised around the patient's medical specifics rather than around institutions. Moreover, the patient's active participation is expected to be pursued.
This kind of future visions is full of technological promises which often will not be fulfilled. But visions give direction and change our view of future developments - in this case of care and health. The pressing question then is whether technological change fits into healthcare challenges. Healthcare is suffering from high costs, looming labour shortages and complex information exchange. What solutions does nanotechnology provide for these social issues? And what do nano applications do to ensure quality, access and affordability of care? What is expected of patients and do they need support?
This note sets out a number of important points for MPs to prepare for the visit in April 2010. What exactly are the promises of nanomedicine (page 7)? What researchers and companies in The Netherlands are engaged in nanomedicine(page 12)? How can we fulfil the promises(page 15)? And finally, what are the main political issues for this field of application (page 21)?
Source: Rathenau Institute
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