Many biological materials and processes exist at the nanoscale - DNA is about 2 nm in diameter and nature has optimized viruses to invade cells at ~ 50 nm. By developing materials that correspond to this size scale, scientists and engineers can offer new tools to clinicians for the improvement of human health. For example, novel biomedical nanomaterials can be used within the body to deliver drugs, track and treat diseases, as coatings for implants, in neural recording and stimulation, and in tissue regeneration. In addition, micro-surgical tools are being developed and tested that will cut the time and cost of procedures in the operating room. Using nanomaterials, teams of Penn State researchers are attacking cancer, heart disease, and diabetes on many fronts. Moreover, many clinically-based Institutes, including the Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute, the Penn State Institute for Personalized Medicine and the Penn State NeuroSciences Institute, will be the beneficiaries of these novel nanomedical materials and devices.
Penn State has substantial expertise in nanomedicine for diagnostics and therapeutics. The use of nanoliposomes, oxide nanoparticles, and carbon nanomaterials (e.g. carbon nanotubes, graphene, doped carbon nanotubes, fullerenes) as delivery vehicles for imaging agents and drugs is a strength area for Penn State. Interdisciplinary research teams are beginning to form around many of these objectives. The Penn State Center for NanoMedicine and Materials works closely with these teams to enable logistical support across disciplines.
These nanomaterials can also provide inexpensive and real-time monitoring of analytes and biomarkers for medical diagnosis and therapeutics. Although a great variety of sensors have been developed for biomedical applications in the past 20-30 years, portable, implantable sensors that integrate multiplexed targets and functions in arrays are still in great need. Likewise, to administer drugs for treating patients with different types of diseases, it is important to target the affected regions of the body with specific pharmaceutical compounds, and these drugs need to be liberated in a controlled manner over time. Nanoscale materials have the potential to radically change cancer therapy and to dramatically increase the number of effective therapeutic approaches. In this regard, nanoscale constructs can serve as customizable, targeted drug delivery vehicles capable of ferrying large doses of chemotherapeutic or molecular agents into malignant cells while sparing healthy cells; greatly reducing or eliminating the undesirable side effects that accompany many current cancer therapies.