The International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory was formally opened in Braga, Portugal at the weekend and the massive complex – which covers 26,000 square metres and will house 200 scientists – is scouting for pharma and biotech partners for cutting-edge nanomedicine projects.

As well as medical research, INL plans to generate spin-off companies in the rapidly-growing area of nanomedicine. “We want to connect R&D to the real economy, healthcare and society,” said INL’s director, José Rivas.

Collaboration with international institutions has already started; earlier this month INL and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced a 25 million euro research partnership which includes self-powered systems for autonomous sensing in biomedical applications.

Nanomedicine projects likely to be undertaken at INL include implantable nanodevices for drug delivery; nanoparticles for selective destruction of tumour cells, imaging and diagnostic applications, genetic disease diagnosis via biochip platforms for bio-molecular recognition; DNA, protein and cell-chips; micro and nano-electrodes for neural and cortical implants; neuroelectronics and: new biomedical imaging technologies such as miniaturised magnetic resonance imaging.

“Nanosciences and nanotechnologies are new approaches to research using manipulation of materials at atomic, molecular and macromolecular scales, where properties differ significantly from those at a larger scale,” said Prof Rivas. Other medical applications include miniaturised diagnostics that can be implanted for early diagnosis of illness and nanotechnology-based coatings to improve the bioactivity and biocompatibility of implants. Self-organising scaffolds could pave the way for new generations of tissue engineering and biomimetic materials, with the long-term potential of synthesising organ replacements.

Nanotechnology involves working with particles at a nanometer scale – a nanometer is one billionth of a meter. Pharmaceutical companies are already starting to see the impact of nanotechnology via advanced drug delivery systems and medical diagnostic tools.

Portugal and Spain have high hopes for the INL – present at the opening ceremony were the King of Spain, the President of Portugal, the President of the Spanish Government, the Prime Minister of Portugal, the Spanish Minister of Science and Innovation and the Portuguese Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education.

Although INL was created as a partnership between the Governments of Portugal and Spain, any other country can join as a member and the institution has an international legal status, similar to that of CERN, the international particle physics laboratory in Geneva.