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Cancer nanomedicine: challenges and opportunities

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Nanotechnology holds enormous promise for personalised cancer medicine — translation is the key

Medicine is on the cusp of a revolution. Personalised, precision medicine — designed and tailored at a molecular level for an individual’s own physiological make-up — will become an inevitable reality in the 21st century. As with all paradigm shifts in medicine, this will be driven by new science and technology, and the technology of the 21st century is nanotechnology.

Nanomedicine is a rapidly evolving paradigm where nanoscience and nanotechnology are applied to medicine. The science underpinning nanotechnology is that some materials, when reduced from everyday, bulk scales down to nanoscales (billionths of a metre; smaller than the size of a typical virus), exhibit dramatically different physical properties. Harnessing and customising these unique nanoscale properties offer unique advantages to health and medicine for two reasons. First, many key molecules involved in biochemical processes responsible for regulating biological function have nanometre (nm) sizes (eg, a glucose molecule is about 1 nm), so nanoscale probes offer a means for molecular-based interrogation and intervention strategies. Second, because of their size, nanoprobes offer a relatively discreet, non-invasive strategy for disease detection and targeted therapy (although the immune system inevitably catches up).1