Where did all the nanomedicine go?

Well, it didn’t go anywhere, as in it didn’t disappear, but it seems that progressively for the last few years it has been not been calling itself “nano” that much anymore.

Last month we submitted a proposal to the last Euronanomed call, a ERA-NET type of platform under H2020 that has been running for twelve years and closes now. Also notably, the new Horizon Europe programme doesn’t have a NMBP programme anymore (NMBP stands for “Nanotechnologies, Advanced Materials, Biotechnology, and Advanced Manufacturing and Processing”), where many biomedical projects used to be funded. While naming things nano in science seems definitely less popular than 4-5 years ago, the area has probably grown in activity. The topics and the goals have merged with other areas where an application is envisaged (biomed, biotech, photonics, photovoltaics, etc.) and where the nanometer scale and the science behind it now uses more flowery and varied words to describe itself. The hypotheses here is that most niche research lines have evolved with their own vocabulary and keywords that include less the word nano. I figured out that it should be possible to trace and measure in some way how much the nanomedicine community continues to use it or not, and preliminary results are the matter of this post.

The European Commission has a public online database called CORDIS with information on all EU-funded R+D projects. For each project you can check for instance title, abstract, summary of periodic and final reports. I looked for projects in the H2020 downloadable spreadsheet that use the text string “nano” ( 1737 out of 19178 projects) on their summary or public periodical reports, and those that at the same time are related to biomedical and biotechnology applications (680 of the 1737). To simplify the search I looked for projects that contained several (4 or more) of a list of 20 words common in projects in those areas (health, clinical, pathology, cancer, bone, illness, biomaterial, biomed, injury, brain, stem cell, in vitro…). Then, to compare numbers year to year I normalised the number of projects related to nanomedicine by the total of projects in the year.

This was all done pretty quickly and improvement is very possible. I would like to refine how to identify projects within a chosen topic in the area, i.e. the list of words or by a different method, just not manually! Also it would be great to extend the series to include the FP7 database for 2007-2013 projects also available from CORDIS. A more ambitious goal that should be possible with these databases would be to identify which words and subtopics are getting more popular within the nanomedicine area, how their use moves over the years. Funded projects should be a good tool to predict emerging topics and interest, as they are one of the first public dissemination of ideas in science, many time earlier than publications for instance.

In the graph below we see number of EU-funded projects related to biomedical and biotechnology applications that use the text string “nano” per thousand projects of the total funded each year.