The nanomedicine of the future we'd like to see - medical nanorobots capable of repairing age-related cellular damage, for example - will grow from the union of the nanobiotechnology and dry nanotechnology research industries. A good example of present day dry nanotechnology research would be the work of Zyvex; building tools and basic capabilities that will later be turned to medical uses. As to nanobiotechnology, here are a couple of recent articles:
One common approach to creating nano-therapies is to hitch a "targeting" molecule, which can find cancer cells in the body, to another particle that can identify the cell to doctors -- or kill it outright. A tiny ball of radioactive material, for example, could be carried to the tumor to irradiate it from within. Microscopic bits of metal could be used to dissolve tumor cells with heat, as with Triton's system, or highlight it on a body scan, so doctors can find growing cancers that would otherwise be impossible to detect.
Sangeeta Bhatia, a medical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has come up with a way to create iron particles small enough to sneak into cancer cells, and coated in such a way that they automatically clump together when exposed to certain proteins inside the tumor.
At Northeastern University, Mansoor Amiji and Vladimir Torchilin are investigating ways to pack capsules with chemotherapy, creating tiny drug bubbles that could sneak into tumors through their blood vessels and penetrate the cells before releasing their toxic payload. In the future, they say, the capsules could have additional functions, such as helping doctors track the size of the tumor as well as the drug's effect.
Johns Hopkins is preparing to aim enormous research and educational resources at some exceedingly small targets. Drawing on the expertise of more than 75 faculty members from such diverse disciplines as engineering, biology, medicine and public health, the university will officially launch its new Institute for NanoBioTechnology on Monday, May 15, with a celebration featuring prominent speakers.
Institute members will work within [key] research areas:
Diagnostics, including the development of molecular imaging probes that can relay information about the health of a patient's organs and other tissues without the need for a biopsy. Advances in this area promise to greatly enhance the way diseases are diagnosed and treated. Therapeutics, including nanoscale forms of drug delivery, gene therapy, protein therapy and immunotherapy. These will be used to treat diseases such as cancer and asthma and conditions such as spinal cord injuries. Cellular and molecular dynamics, including the use of powerful new tools to study the inner working of cells. This knowledge should help identify causes of disease and new molecular targets that could help cure medical disorders.
You can estimate the health of a field by concrete and conferences - buildings constructed, institutes founded, gatherings held. By that measure, the foundation of future nanomedicine in bioscience is well underway; a good thing too, given the vast potential for medicine, health and longevity.