New applications for nanotechnology to better detect and treat diseases like cancer, at CosmoCaixa Barcelona


Nanotechnology, the manipulation of matter on an atomic and molecular scale to create materials with various new properties, is a booming area of research that has great potential in many sectors. In medicine, it promises to revolutionize diagnosis of diseases, drug delivery and many areas of research, development and clinical application.

Although the potential of nanomedicine is indisputable, its use entails risks associated with the environment and health that must be minimized before it is generally applied in human beings. On 9, 10 and 11 October some 60 national and international experts will meet at CosmoCaixa Barcelona to present the latest breakthroughs, analyze scientific challenges for the coming decade and propose solutions to problems curbing the application of nanomedicine in society. These scientific debates organized by B·Debate, an initiative of Biocat and the "la Caixa" Foundation, and the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2) and Institute of Biotechnology and Biomedicine (IBB-UAB), are entitled Nanotechnologies in Health: current challenges and future prospects.

An important nanobiomedicine network was created in Barcelona two years ago, called BioNanoMed Catalunya, made up of 25 organizations. It aims to promote synergies, create new research and business opportunities in nanobiomedicine, and boost international visibility of this field.

An ageing population and the progressive increase of illnesses like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer, Parkinson and other neurodegenerative pathologies with no definitive treatment necessitates new diagnostic and therapeutic methods that are faster, more effective and more specific than those currently available and also cut costs involved as much as possible. Nanomedicine promises to address some of these issues through early detection of diseases and the possibility of regenerating damaged organs and tissues inside the body.

Nanoparticles have already been developed to recognize, detect and selectively attack cancerous cells and nanosensors can detect abnormally low amounts of molecules in biological fluids that reveal the existence of malign tumors and other diseases. Clinical trials have also been carried out with nanoparticles for controlled drug delivery at the specific point of therapeutic interest.

Scientific directors of the event are Dr. Nerea Roher, Ramón y Cajal research fellow at the IBB-UAB; Dr. Antonio Villaverde, professor of Microbiology at the UAB; and Dr. Víctor Puntes, ICREA head researcher, leader of the ICN2 nanoparticles group and associate professor at the University of Barcelona.

The international participants will include Jacky Ying, a specialist in design and synthesis of advanced nanostructures, executive director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore and associate professor of Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA); and Ruth Duncan, a specialist in the development of nanometric systems for targeted drug delivery, emeritus professor at Cardiff University (United Kingdom) and visiting professor at the Príncipe Felipe Research Center in Valencia.

Another scientific debate was held last week, entitled The death of plant cells: From proteases to field applications, on programmed cell death in plants to help address growing food needs.

Follow the debate on Twitter @BDebate with the hashtag #BDebate