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 nanotechnologyFor 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:
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):
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.
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.