This review based on the Wickham lecture given by AC at the 2009 SMIT meeting in Sinaia outlines the progress made in nano-technology for healthcare. It describes in brief the nature of nano-materials and their unique properties which accounts for the significant research both in scientific institutions and industry for translation into new therapies embodied in the emerging field of nano-medicine. It stresses that the potential of nano-medicine to make significant inroads for more effective therapies both for life-threatening and life-disabling disorders will only be achieved by high-quality life science research. The first generation of passive nano-diagnostics based on nanoparticle contrast agents for magnetic resonance imaging is well established in clinical practice and new such contrast agents are undergoing early clinical evaluation. Likewise active (second generation) nano-therapies, exemplified by targeted control drug release systems are undergoing early clinical evaluation. The situation concerning other nano-materials such as carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and boron nitride nanotubes (BNNTs) is less advanced although considerable progress has been made on their coating for aqueous dispersion and functionalisation to enable carriage of drugs, genes and fluorescent markers. The main problem related to the clinical use of these nanotubes is that there is no consent among scientists on the fate of such nano-materials following injection or implantation in humans. Provided carbon nanotubes are manufactured to certain medical criteria (length around 1 mum, purity of 97-99% and low Fe content) they exhibit no cytotoxicity on cell cultures and demonstrate full bio-compatibility on in vivo animal studies. The results of recent experimental studies have demonstrated the potential of technologies based on CNTs for low voltage wireless electro-chemotherapy of tumours and for electro-stimulation therapies for cardiac, neurodegenerative and skeletal and visceral muscle disorders.