Nanomedicine: India’s next small thing

Cranfield University image
Cranfield University image

Nanotechnology is one of the key technologies of the 21st century.

Its multidisciplinary involving areas such as applied physics, material science, molecular biology and engineering.

It has the potential to transform every economic sector from medicine, energy, electronics to food science and cosmetics.

Scientists are already collaborating to create new medical devices and more resistant materials.

The Indian government has recognised the potential. In 2012, it launched its Nano Mission program to help transform its health, agriculture and energy sectors.

The program will strengthen basic research, fund R&D projects and link universities to industry and foreign collaborators.

If publications are any indicator of leadership, nanotechnology in India is still in its early stages. India ranks 7th. The USA leads, followed by China, Japan, Germany and Korea. But India’s future prospect seems bright. India’s patenting activity filed abroad is on the rise.

Transforming health

In health, Indian scientists are seeking to transform drug delivery, gene therapy and clinical oncology.

Millions of people in countries like India and in sub-Saharan Africa die due to lack of access to even basic health care. Fabio Salamanca-Buentello from the University of Toronto believes that nanotechnology can be harnesses to reduce child mortality, improve maternal mortality and combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases.

Azamat Ali and Kunal Sinha in their recent article in the Journal of Social Science for Policy Implications agree. “India has both its private and public sector working on nanotechnology R&D in the health sector”.

Scientists are finding new ways to develop nanocrystalline materials for bone replacement and drug delivery. Using biodegrable nanopolymer composites either for drug design and biomedical applications and nanoparticle mediated delivery of cancer cell lines, tissue engineering and pharmaceutical applications.

Ali and Sinha points to the Defence Research & Development Establishment (DRDE), which has developed a Typhoid Detection Kit using nano sensor. Every year, there are 16 million typhoid fever cases worldwide. The University of Delhi has developed 11 patentable technologies for improved drug delivery systems using nanoparticles. Four of these have been granted U.S. patents.

Emerging challenges

Globally, the nanotechnology industry is a billion dollar market, says Ali and Sinha. “The global market size of the nanotechnology industry in 2011 was valued at nearly $20 billion and is projected to reach $49 billion in 2017.

Leading Indian companies like Reliance, Tata Group and Intel India, Mahindra and Mahindra are making investments in nanotechnology. Collectively they have invested close to $250 million.

What are the challenges for India’s nanotechnology sector? Ali and Sinha points to several issues emerging in nanotechnology.

Because nanotechnology in India is still in its early stages, there is a need to develop responsible nanotechnology governance. “ The main challenges for the application of nanotechnology sector are the improvement of efficiency, reliability, safety and lifetime, as well as the reduction of costs”, says Ali and Sinha.

Another challenge is encouraging the development of appropriate products targeted to help meet critical human development needs especially in India.

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