Introduction

Is it science fiction, or is it reality, when a miniscule chip, smaller than what is currently available, is used in the molecular genetics laboratory to considerably accelerate research and to help identify markers of diagnostic, prognostic and therapeutic value? Is it science fiction, or is it reality, when specific drugs are delivered selectively to individual cells in the human body and thus treat potentially incurable diseases, with no side effects? Is it science fiction, or is it reality, when molecular robots are sent into the circulation with the mission of detecting cancer cells, disabling them, and then causing their selective destruction. This apparent science fiction is actually fast becoming reality, in the world of Nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology refers to the creation of functional material devices and systems through the control of matter on an atomic or molecular scale-the nanometer scale (1 nm = 1 x 10-9 m). It is at this size scale that most biologic molecules inside living cells operate.

The prefix "nano" actually originates from the greek word nanos, meaning "little old man" or "dwarf" and the strict definition of nanotechnology is the study, design, creation, synthesis, manipulation, and application of functional materials, devices, and systems through control of matter at the nanometer scale. Nanomedicine, an offshoot of nanotechnology, refers to the highly specific monitoring, repair, construction, and control of human biological systems at the molecular level, using engineered nanodevices and nanostructures (1,2). Over the next decade, it is widely expected that nanotechnol-ogy and nanomedicine will have important and innovative applications in clinical research and medicine, as well as contributing $1 trillion to the global economy (3).

Preliminary designs of nanoparticles, such as artificial red blood cells, white cells, and killer cells that can identify a particular bacteria, or cancer cells, have already been developed, and it is anticipated that nanotechnology will allow urologists to intervene at the cellular and molecular level of any disease process in the future. In this chapter, we introduce important concepts of nanotechnology and discuss published data in the urological literature, which shows the potential for nanotechnology to link molecular signatures to urological cancer behavior and clinical outcome, develop nanoparticle probes for molecular and cellular imaging of urological disease, and for the novel use of nanoparticles for the delivery of drug therapy.

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