Nanotechnology Remains a Priority for US Research

The National Nanotechnology Initiative's new strategic plan affirms the federal government's support for research and development in nanotechnology, including for medical and healthcare applications.
Jan 09, 2008

The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) released a new strategic plan last month. The plan describes the vision, goals, and priorities of the NNI to insure that the United States remain a global leader in nanotechnology research and development (R&D), which includes medical and healthcare applications. The NNI is a federal program established in fiscal year 2001 to coordinate federal nanotechnology R&D.

"This strategic plan presents an overview of the NNI for the public and will facilitate achievement of the NNI vision by offering guidance for agency leaders, program managers, and the research community in their nanotechnology R&D investments and activities," said Clayton Teague, director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, in a NNI January 2008 release. The 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003 calls for the NNI Strategic Plan to be updated every three years. The plan, the 2007 NNI Strategic Plan, was released in December 2007.

Definition of nanotechnology

For purposes of the plan and the NNI, nanotechnology is defined as the understanding and control of matter at dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nm, where unique phenomena enable novel applications. Nanotechnology encompasses nanoscale science, engineering and technology, and involves imaging, measuring, modeling, and manipulating matter at this length scale (1).

Goals of the NNI plan

The new plan reflects the consensus of the 25 NNI participating agencies as to the goals and priorities of the NNI and provides a framework within which each agency will carry out its own mission-related nanotechnology programs and a path that will sustain the coordination of interagency activities. The plan identifies four major goals:

  • Advance a world-class nanotechnology R&D program, which includes advancing nanotechnology in healthcare
  • Foster the transfer of new technologies into products for commercial and public benefit
  • Develop and sustain educational resources, a skilled workforce, and the supporting infrastructure and tools to advance nanotechnology
  • Support responsible development of nanotechnology (1).

Of the 25 federal agencies involved in the NNI, 13 have budgets dedicated to nanotechnology R&D, which include the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. The US Food and Drug Administration is also participating in the program as is the US Patent and Trademark Office (1).

Program component areas

The NNI Strategic Plan identifies major subject areas or program component goals (PCAs), in which investments are needed to ensure the success of the program. The new plan identifies eight PCAs as follows (1):

  • Fundamental Nanoscale Phenomena and Process. This PCA pertains to the discovery and development of fundamental knowledge pertaining to new phenomena in the physical, biological, and engineering sciences that occur at the nanoscale.
  • Nanomaterials. This PCA targets research for the discovery of novel nanoscale and nanostructured materials and a comprehensive understanding of the properties of nanomaterials. This process involves the ability to design and synthesize, in a controlled manner, nanostructured materials with targeted properties.
  • Nanoscale Devices and Systems. This area involves R&D applied to the principles of nanoscale science and engineering to create novel or to improve existing devices and systems. To meet the definition, the enabling science and technology must be at the nanoscale, but the systems and devices are not restricted to that size.
  • Instrumentation, Research, Metrology, and Standard for Nanotechnology. This PCA pertains to the tools needed to advance advance nanotechnology research and commercialization, including next-generation instrumentation for characterization, measurement, synthesis, and design of materials, structures, devices, and systems. This area also includes R&D and other activities related to the development of standards, including standards for nomenclature, materials, characterization and testing, and manufacture.
  • Nanomanufacturing. This area targets R&D for enabling scale-up and cost-effective manufacturing of nanoscale materials, structures, devices, and systems.
  • Major Research Facilities and Instrumentation. This PCA seeks to establish user facilities, acquisition of major instrumentation, and other activities that develop, support, or enhance the country's scientific infrastructure for conducting nanoscale science, engineering, and technology R&D.
  • Environment, Health and Safety. This area targets research for understanding the environmental, health, and safety impacts of nanotechnology development and corresponding risk assessment, risk management, and methods for risk mitigation.
  • Education and Societal Dimension. This PCA includes education-related activities such as development of materials for schools, undergraduate programs, technical training, and public communication, including outreach and engagement. These areas further include research directed at identifying and quantifying the broad implications of nanotechnology for society, including social, economic, workforce, educational, ethical, and legal implications.

One of the changes in the new strategic plan is the division of the Societal Dimension PCA into two PCAs: Environment, Health and Safety and Education and Societal Dimension.

Medical and healthcare applications

Research into cancer therapy is one example of a cross-functional and multi-agency approach being pursued under NNI. The National Cancer Institute (NCI), working in concert with the National Institution of Standards and Technology (NSIT) and FDA established the Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory (NCL) to accelerate the development and translation of nanoscale materials and devices into cancer therapies (1).

The NCL performs and standardizes preclinical characterization of nanoparticle-based platforms for cancer drugs and diagnostics. The characterization service support investigational new drug filings and is available to members of academia, government, and industry. The NCL provides infrastructure support to the NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer and serves as a national resource and knowledge base (1).

Cancer research illustrates the partnership required to advance nanotechnology. The NCI is focused on clinical research, and the NIST offers physical and chemical measurement instrumentation and methods that may be used in assay protocols, models, and standards for physical and chemical characterization of nanoparticles. NIST researchers also apply measurement tools to characterize the physical properties of nanoparticle-based platforms submitted to the NCL. FDA evaluates the drug for safety and efficacy.

References

1. The National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategic Plan (Subcommitte on Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology Committee on Technology, National Science and Technology Council (Washington, DC, December 2008), www.nano.gov/html/about/strategicplan.html , accessed Jan. 8, 2007.