Health - Overview - About the sector - Simple Text Content

The ability to measure and manufacture at the nanoscale is opening up many new avenues within industry and across society. Health is one in which nanoscience and nanotechnology can be applied as many of the diseases that affect society and the cures inherently exist at the nanoscale. The influenza virus1 and HIV have dimensions of between 80-150 nanometres (nm) while hepatitis is approximately 45 nm across. Antibodies, which protect us against disease, commonly have dimensions of 12nm while glucose (so important in nutrition) is smaller at under a nanometre (0.9nm)2 .

Nanotechnology is already contributing to the discovery of the causes of diseases and the development of treatments and cures and will increasingly be able to contribute to our health and well-being, thereby addressing the societal challenges of health, healthy living and healthy ageing. The development of valuable and effective nanomonitors, nanodiagnostics and nanotherapeutics can also offer opportunities for industry, thereby supporting economic growth and European sustainability and competitiveness. As in many other disciplines, Europe has a strong research basis in health, on which to build, and a strong chemical and engineering industry base to complement that.

Here, the health topic is concerned with the application of nanotechnology to health and medicine but excludes wider healthcare issues. For example, it excludes the use of nanotechnology in the vehicles related to healthcare, and its use in the electronic and computer-based systems that support healthcare, focusing instead on current and future applications of nanotechnology to health in the diagnosis and treatment of:

  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Infectious diseases and
  • Neurodegenerative diseases

WHO, the World Health Organisation, reported3 that, of 56 million global deaths in 2012, over two-thirds (38 million, 68%) were due to non-communicable diseases. In terms of absolute numbers, there was a rise in mortality from non-communicable diseases over the figures reported in 2008 (36 million out of 57 million i.e. 63%). A large proportion of these deaths occurred before the age of 60, during some of the most productive periods of people's lives.


  2008 2012
  Million deaths % of total NCD Million deaths % of total NCD
Cardiovascular disease 17.0 47 17.5 46
Cancers 7.6 21 8.2 22
Respiratory diseases 4.2 12 4.0 11
Diabetes 1.3 4 1.5 4
Other 5.9 16 6.8 17
TOTAL 36.0 100 38.0 100



3. WHO Global Health Observatory figures ( accessed January 2015) and