THOUSANDS of patients are already benefiting from the miniature world of nanotechnology, a Welsh expert today said.
Professor Ruth Duncan, of the Welsh School of Pharmacy, at Cardiff University, said although nanotechnology - a nanometre is one billionth of a metre - may be a fashionable new field in drug development, the clinical benefits are already being experienced.
Prof Duncan, who today addresses the British Pharmaceutical Conference as the science chairman, said, "Progress in the development of nano-sized hybrid therapeutics and nano-sized drug delivery systems over the last decade has been remarkable.
"A growing number of products have already secured regulatory authority approval and, in turn, are supported by a healthy clinical development pipeline.
"They include products used to treat multiple sclerosis, Aids, cancer, hepatitis and arthritis." She said better understanding of the molecular basis of disease has led to "real optimism" that a new generation of improved medicines is just around the corner.
She added, "This is still just the beginning. In the longer term, nanomedicines research will certainly embrace the opportunities arising from stem cell research, tissue engineering research and device miniaturisation.
"Real opportunities exist to design nano-sized bioresponsive systems able to diagnose and then deliver drugs and to design systems able to promote tissue regeneration and repair without the need for chemotherapy.
"These ideas may today seem science fiction, but to dismiss them too readily would be foolish."
Professor Duncan's research, funded by Cancer Research UK, led to the transfer of the first polymer-based anticancer conjugates into clinical trial.