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Zone in with Zon--Oligonucleotide Therapeutics & Nanomedicine--Feel the Heat!

Dr. Gerald Zon’s latest “Zone in with Zon” blog post, dated September 29, 2014, focuses on nanomedicine and was triggered by consideration of the upcoming Oligonucleotide Therapeutics Society (OTS) annual meeting on October 12-15, 2014 in San Diego, Californiaq and an intriguing scheduled presentation by Professor Weihong Tan—an extraordinarily prolific researcher at the University of Florida—entitled “DNA-based molecular medicine and nanomedicine.” First, Dr. Zon attempts to define nanomedicine, but runs into the problem that multiple different definitions exist in the literature. After considerable research, he comes up with a relevant list of key nanomedicine comments provided in an editorial in the International Journal of Nanomedicine (IJM): (a) “Although defining a term such as nanomedicine may sound simple, by comparing several main funding agencies from around the world, one quickly realizes that a uniform international definition of nanomedicine does not currently exist. This is typical of a new field, but can be problematic to those trying to understand the field, make significant contributions to it, and especially in how the public views nanomedicine.” (b) “[In NIH’s 2006] Roadmap for Medical Research in Nanomedicine, [it] is defined as ‘an offshoot of nanotechnology [that] refers to highly specific medical interventions at the molecular scale for curing disease or repairing damaged tissues, such as bone, muscle, or nerve.’” (c) “[N]anomedicine emerged from nanotechnology which is generally defined by the creation and use of materials at the level of molecules and atoms (sometimes specifically less than 100 nm, other times this dimension is more diffuse and confusing).” Dr. Zon seizes upon this last point, a size-based definition, as being particularly pertinent. Dr. Zon then adduces facts to demonstrate that nanomedicine is indeed a “hot” area. He said that he entered a general search of PubMed using the word nanomedicine and found over 8,000 publications since 1999, with the number of nanomedicine-related publications growing exponentially since 2006—coinciding with the aforementioned NIH Roadmap’s funding. These articles reached an impressive rate of ~4 publications per day in 2012, Dr. Zon said. He further noted “this intense interest in nanomedicine over that short period is underscored by a similar search of Google Scholar that found over 97,000 items, while that for Google Patents found nearly 24,000 items.” Dr. Zon states his opinion that the potential power of nanomedicine derives from the fact that it “is at the nexus of multiple scientific disciplines and various aspects of medicine. Given this circumstance, nanomedicine as an application is exceptionally diverse and, hence, powerful.” He buttresses his argument by quoting from the closing statement of the aforementioned IJM editorial, “IJN takes a firm stance…and emphasizes nanomedicine research in which significantly changed medical events are elucidated only by concentrating on nanoscale events. In this respect, our attempt to separate nanomedicine from other traditional medical research fields is a focus on significantly changed medically related events that result by concentrating solely on the nanoscale.” A professional nucleic acid chemist, Dr. Zon goes on to describe an example of the kind of nanomedicine application that might be described in Dr. Tan’s presentation. This is tumor-specific, nanoparticle-encapsulated, drug delivery enabled by nucleic acid aptamers. Dr. Zon has written about aptamers in previous blog posts and notes, in brief, that nucleic acids provide 3D-structure for aptamers to allow specific bonding to “molecular markers” on target cells or tissue. He remarks that “more futuristic applications of DNA in nanomedicine are predicated on predictable “self-assembly” of nano-scale structures via base pairing to achieve a functional state.” Dr. Zon notes, that while many may think these “futuristic” applications are indeed far-off, at least one group, Parabon NanoLabs, with the support of an NSF Technology Enhancement for Commercial Partnerships grant, is moving quickly forward, using a simple “drag-and-drop” computer interface and DNA self-assembly techniques, to develop a new automated method of drug development that could reduce the time required to create and test medications. “We can now ‘print,’ molecule by molecule, exactly the compound that we want,” says Dr. Steven Armentrout, the principal investigator on the NSF grants and co-developer of Parabon’s technology, according to an online interview. “What differentiates our nanotechnology from others is our ability to rapidly, and precisely, specify the placement of every atom in a compound that we design.” (as quoted in Dr. Zon’s blog). The Parabon Essemblix Drug Development Platform combines computer-aided design (CAD) software with nanoscale fabrication technology, developed in partnership with Janssen Research & Development, LLC, part of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. Dr. Zon closed by saying that he is amazed and really excited by the Parabon progress and that he will be attending the upcoming OTS meeting and very much looking forward to hearing Dr. Tan’s talk. He also encouraged any of his blog readers who are also at the meeting to look for him and say hello. Dr. Zon is an eminent nucleic acid chemist and Director of Business Development at TriLink BioTechnologies in San Diego, California. To read the complete version of Dr. Zon’s current blog and also to access previous posts, please use the following link: [Zon blog post]