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Discovery & Development Drug Delivery, Ingredients, Formulation

There Was Plenty of Room at the Bottom

In December 1959, Richard Phillips Feynman – theoretical physicist – highlighted the tremendous opportunities offered by miniaturization: “I would like to describe a field, in which little has been done, but in which an enormous amount can be done in principle”. Although it was 56 years ago, Feynman recognized the huge potential of small-scale manipulation and control (1). He also offered a challenge, “Why can’t we write the entire 24 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica on the head of a pin?”

Nowadays, the term “nano” plays a leading role in “the science show”, but it’s no longer simply a reference to the ancient Greek word for dwarf, νᾰ́ννος (nánnos), or the prefix in the International System of Units indicating one nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. We now use “nano” when talking about how matter behaves at the nanoscale and how that behavior extrapolates to real applications, such 
as medicine.

After reading the transcript of Feynam’s lecture, I fully appreciate why some people call him the father of nanotechnology. He foresaw a colossal sandbox for scientific discoveries at the nanoscale  – and within it nanomedicine. The National Institutes of Health aptly described nanomedicine as “an offshoot of nanotechnology, which refers to highly specific medical interventions at the molecular scale for curing disease or repairing damaged tissues, such as bone, muscle, or nerve” (2).

But can we become “the nanomedicine makers”? I think that we can. Over the years, diseases such as cancer have kept researchers looking for new alternative treatments with improved therapeutic effects and patient welfare. Delivery and release of drug molecules to specific sites represents a big challenge for the pharmaceutical sciences. However, a new frontier in the field of biomedical technologies has opened with the development of novel drug delivery: nanodevices.

Among all the drug delivery nanosystems, I have a predilection for one in particular: biopolymeric nanoparticles. When I talk about nanomedicine, I always remind my audience about how minuscule the world I’m presenting actually is. After all, we are human beings used to living in the macro scale, so it is very useful to exercise our perception of nano objects; consider that a tennis ball is the same size in relation to the Earth as a nanoparticle is to a tennis ball. Why are we so determined to invest our energies developing and obtaining such tiny pharmacological intermediates? Because the effort is worthwhile.

Over this past decade, there has been a remarkable revolution in nanoparticles made from different biopolymers. Such polymeric drug carriers are exceptionally valuable for biomedical applications because of their adaptability to achieve the most critical goals of drug delivery approaches such as:

  • carrying a wide variety of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs)
  • protecting APIs from degradation in the body before reaching the target site
  • customizing drug release rates in the specific target site to achieve adequate pharmacological response
  • surface chemistry suitable for active targeting, long circulation, and stealth behavior
  • delivering the drug intra or extracellularly, depending on the therapeutic goal
  • biocompatibility and biodegradability for secure and safe human administration.

I believe that biopolymeric nanoparticle drug delivery systems are extremely valuable; it seems that the best things really do come in small (nano) packages. Something tells me that Richard Feynman wouldn’t be surprised with the huge progress that nanopharmacology is achieving – after all, he was the one who imagined small machines working in our bodies. The title of Feynman’s presentation in 1959 was “Plenty of Room at the Bottom” and he was right. There is plenty of room at the bottom – perhaps more than we can even dream about.

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  1. RP Feynman, “Plenty of Room at the Bottom”, presented at the American Physical Society meeting, December 1959; Pasadena, California, USA.
  2. National Institutes of Health, “Nanomedicine”, (2015). Available at: Accessed August 8, 2016.
About the Author
Merari Tumin Chevalier

Merari Tumin Chevalier is Doctoral Fellow, Group Polymer Matrix Composites (CoMP), INTEMA School of Engineering, National University of Mar del Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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