The article, the first review of this new discipline published in a high impact journal, analyses the latest research in nano-informatics, including its applications to paediatrics, and also examines the discipline's scientific foundations, and research and projects in this field, including their potential applications and problems.
The authors, who are partners of the European ACTION Grid project, co-ordinated by the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM), explain that nano-informatics uses informatics techniques to process and analyse the information on the physico-chemical structure and properties of nanoparticles, their environments and applications, and can therefore be said to be a discipline that acts as a catalyst and speeds up research into nanomedicine.
They also point out that the development of nanomedicine is still in its infancy, although some nanoparticles and nanodevices have already been approved or are about to be approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, including, for example, superparamagnetic nanoparticles to detect metastases in some types of cancer or new devices that combine microfluids or nanosensors to detect tumours.
These applications of nanomaterials open up new prospects for personalized medicine, the authors add, indicating that classical clinical studies need to be redesigned to adapt to the advances taking place in genomics, proteomics and pharmacogenetics. "The introduction of nanoparticles that can target different molecules or groups of atoms with high precision can significantly advance the personalization of clinical procedures", according to the article.
The authors place special emphasis on the paediatric applications of nanomedicine that can effectively contribute to the treatment of childhood disorders like asthma, cystic fibrosis, respiratory infections or lung cancer. They also refer to the possible secondary effects of such therapies, stating that the problems detected in this respect are often related to the dose and the mechanism of action of a nanoparticle therapy rather than the properties of the nanoparticles themselves.
The authors also relate that their previous research focused on the integration of genomics with medical information systems, a process that proved to be more difficult than originally anticipated, but raises major challenges for personalized medicine. From the computational viewpoint, the integration of data at the nano-level poses even greater difficulties parallel to those faced at higher scales by bioinformatics and medical informatics.
Both the European Commission and the United States Government are collaborating on new projects with a view to the development of an inventory of nanoparticles that includes techniques for modelling nanoparticle properties, as well as nanoparticle interaction with biological systems.
Along similar lines, the authors explain that they have developed a new approach for automatically creating an index of bioinformatics resources with information automatically extracted from research article abstracts using text mining techniques.
They note in this respect that ontologies have demonstrated that they are a more than satisfactory support for a computational approach to the systematization of knowledge, particularly in biomedicine, and are likely to play an equivalent role in structuring information in nanomedicine. In fact, ontologies have played an important role in the development of nanoportals, like caNanoLab, a specialized website for nanoparticle cancer treatment.
Even though many current nano-informatics applications look very similar to comparable systems already built in medical and bioinformatics, a profound change is actually afoot in informatics, and researchers are coming up with new approaches for integrating data and knowledge at the nano-level.
The possibility of biomolecular devices acting not only in vitro but also in vivo within diseased human organisms is also opening up new prospects, where biomolecular automata could even intervene to intelligently deliver drugs to the diseased regions of the human body just where they are needed.
In this respect, the authors note that research on a "Doctor in a Cell" is already in progress. This is a genetically modified cell that can operate in a human body. It contains a biological computer that can process and analyse external biological signals, emit a diagnosis and deliver the desired molecular therapeutic signal to treat the patient.
The conclusion is that informatics will play a crucial role in the development and implementation of nanoparticles and nanodevices and their application in both the laboratory and living organisms. The authors add that informaticians will have a decisive impact on nanomedicine by creating new simulation models and methods. All this will change not only the training of physicians and informaticians in the near future, but will also modify current health care models.
The article is authored by Víctor Maojo and Alfonso Rodríguez Patón, both from the Artificial Intelligence Department at the UPM's Facultad de Informática, Fernando Martín Sánchez, from the Department of Medical Bioinformatics at the Instituto Nacional de Salud Carlos III, Casimir Kulikowski, from the Department of Computational Science at the Rutgers State University in New Jersey, and Martin Fritts, from the National Cancer Institute at Frederick, USA. The article is titled "Nanoinformatics and DNA-Based Computing: Catalyzing Nanomedicine".