The Future of Medicine: Nanotechnology

May 10, 2015 / Abhi Saravanan

As we continue to progress into the 21st century, we make huge technological advances. One of the biggest technological gains of the 21st century is nanotechnology. Nanotechnology has a wide variety of applications. It has many technological uses, as indicated by its name. It can be used in engineering and producing cars. It is also used in producing really tiny, but really complex and powerful computers. The military can also use it to produce many weapons that are tiny and so are hard to detect and can cause lots of harm to the enemy, namely unsuspecting Muslim terrorists. However, I believe that the most important application of nanotechnology is to medicine.

Nanotechnology has many uses in medicine, but one of its most important applications is in treating cancer. Within cancer, nanotechnology is being applied in two ways. The first is drug delivery and the second is using nanoparticles as imaging agents to detect cancer before it progresses to a more advanced stage. First let’s talk about drug delivery. Currently, it is very hard to deliver drugs specifically to the tumor. Sometimes, the medication goes into non-tumorous cells and then negatively impacts them. However, with the use of nanotechnology, doctors can take the drug and specifically give it to the cancerous tumor without any side effects on normal cells. According to an article in Nature, “Robert Langer's team have shown the potential of targeted nanoparticles to deliver anticancer drugs. Early signs are promising. Langer, with Omid Farokhzad, Assistant Professor of Anesthesia at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, USA, and colleagues, uses polymeric nanoparticles coated with aptamers — RNA-based targeting moieties — to guide them towards the tumors, where they bind, enter the cells and then dissolve to spill out their contents — the anticancer drug docetaxel. A single injection of such nanoparticles coated with aptamers that bind to prostate-membrane-specific antigen eradicated tumors in a mouse model of prostate cancer. ‘Extensive animal models show that this approach is both safe and efficacious,’ says Langer.” As you can see, so far this approach has been very effective. If research is continued in this field, we can successfully scale up the nanotech for use in humans and effectively cure cancer. We have most of the drugs necessary to do this. All that is left is drug delivery and optimal rehabilitation without impacting any normal cells. Imagine this: with nanotechnology we can cure cancer.

‘Extensive animal models show that this approach is both safe and efficacious,’ says Langer.

Another way nanotechnology is being applied to treating cancer is in the diagnosis and imaging of cancer. This works essentially the same way as drug delivery. However, instead of delivering drugs to the cancerous tumor it releases some sort of imaging agent so that the doctor knows exactly where the tumor is and can use surgery to remove it. This is one of the most common ways tumors are removed. However, the problem with this is that the doctor does not know which cells are tumorous and which are normal. They only have a general idea of the location of the tumor. With nanotechnology, they know the exact boundaries of the tumor. Within the field of medical imaging and diagnosis, nanotech is not just used with cancer. According to the National Nanotechnology Initiative, which is a government-based program, “Nanotechnology has been used in the early diagnosis of atherosclerosis. Gold nanoparticles can be used to detect early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Molecular imaging for the early detection where sensitive biosensors constructed of nanoscale components can recognize genetic and molecular events and have reporting capabilities, thereby offering the potential to detect rare molecular signals associated with malignancy.” If you didn’t understand all of that, it’s okay. Basically what it is saying is that nanotech can recognize different chemicals that are associated with certain diseases and then give a diagnosis based upon that. In medicine these are called biomarkers. With nanotechnology we can detect the disease even before the patient begins to feel the symptoms of that condition.

In conclusion, nanotechnology has caused and will continue to cause many new advances in medicine. It is still a developing technology and we will definitely see a lot more of it in the future. I believe, that if developed further it could solve a lot the major medical problems that currently exist in the world, which could greatly reduce healthcare spending and save billions of lives across the globe. Even though nanotechnology is still in its infancy, I can definitely see that it has lots of potential and will continue to develop and grow in the future.

Source: Nanosmat Asian


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