State of nanoscale medicine

James Baker designs nanoparticles to guide drugs directly into cancer cells, which could lead to far safer treatments. Cancer therapies may be the first nanomedicines to take off. Treatments that deliver drugs to the neighborhood of cancer cells in nanoscale capsules have recently become available for breast and ovarian cancers and for Kaposi’s sarcoma. The next generation of treatments, not yet approved, improves the drugs by delivering them inside individual cancer cells. This generation also boasts multifunction particles such as Baker’s; in experiments reported last June, Baker’s particles slowed and even killed human tumors grown in mice far more efficiently than conventional chemotherapy. Baker has already begun work on a modular system in which dendrimers adorned with different drugs, imaging agents, or cancer-targeting molecules could be “zipped together.” Doctors might be able to create personalized combinations of medicines by simply mixing the contents of vials of dendrimers.

Such a system is at least 10 years away from routine use, but Baker’s basic design could be approved for use in patients in as little as five years. That kind of rapid progress is a huge part of what excites doctors and researchers about nanotechnology’s medical potential.

Raoul Kopelman — Nanoparticles for cancer imaging and therapy
University of Michigan

Robert Langer — Nanoparticle drug delivery for prostate cancer

Charles Lieber — Nanowire devices for virus detection and cancer screening
Harvard University

Ralph Weissleder — Magnetic nano-particles for cancer imaging
Harvard University