Imagine this scene in a sci-fi movie: robots have been sent to identify and eliminate the antagonists. These robots have been programmed to focus on the enemy and cause no harm to the rest of the characters in the cast. The algorithm programmed within their system is structured to pick up the enemy’s unique distinguishing factor. By so doing, the robots can quickly identify this enemy even if the enemy was trying to masquerade as one of the native characters.
Here comes the plot twist, or should we say, the twist in the setting. The robots remain to be robots, only more miniature (nanoparticles and nanorobots). The setting changes from that of a sci-fi movie to that of a human body; your body. The characters are your cells and the pathogenic cells (the enemy).
While the idea of having robots in your body may sound creepy, it is an exciting possibility that could result from advancement in nanotechnology. With such options, nanotechnology is predicted to revolutionize various essential fields, medicine included. Breakthrough in this kind of research will lead to better diagnosis, treatment, and management of patients.
This article is about exploring some of the exciting possibilities that may come from the application of nanotechnology in the world of medicine. However, before exploring this, it would be prudent to start by defining nanotechnology. Nanotechnology can be defined as the study and control of matter at scales of 1-100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications. Nanotechnology includes imaging, measuring, modeling, and manipulating matter at this length scale, and it encompasses nanoscale science, engineering, and technology. A blend of this technology and the practice of medicine is at times referred to as nanomedicine.
Nanomedicine opens up a vast field of research and application through the interaction with the biological molecules at the nanoscale. Researchers can understand interactions between artificial molecular assemblies or nanodevices and biomolecules in the extracellular medium and human cells. Working at the nanoscale helps you take advantage of physical properties that aren’t visible at the microscale, such as the volume/surface ratio.
With the definition out of the way, we can look at some of the ways nanotechnology will be applied in medicine.
Using nanoparticles to deliver medicines, heat, light, or other substances to particular types of cells is one application of nanotechnology in medicine currently being developed. Particles are designed to attract diseased cells, allowing them to treat these cells directly. This method helps to protect healthy cells in the body while also allowing for early disease detection.
Companies developing nanomedicines are keen to improve nanotechnologies’ ability to target specific cells or tissues. Attaching nanoparticles to drugs or liposomes to improve particular localization is a topic of study in this field. Nanotechnology can be used to “identify” cells of interest because different cell types have distinct properties. This allows for the delivery of medications and therapeutics to diseased tissue while avoiding healthy cells. For instance, researchers are working on a technique to deliver cardiac stem cells to damaged heart tissue. To increase the number of stem cells transported to injured tissue, they attach nanovesicles to the stem cells attracted to the injury.
While this is an exciting area of study, there are currently only a few nanomedicines that effectively employ nanotechnology in this way. This can be attributed to the lack of well-defined parameters associated with finding the proper ratio or combination of nanoparticles for a given drug.
Release of drugs under strict control
You may not see the need for substantial drug delivery work if your drug use is limited to an occasional medication. However, if you had diabetes and needed to receive treatment several times a day or a cancer patient suffering from crippling side effects from your therapy, the advantages of enhanced drug delivery could make a massive difference in your life.
For such a reason, professionals in medicine are very interested in the potential of nanotechnology to control the release of a drug or therapeutic compound. This “triggered” release could theoretically come from either inside or outside the body. External stimuli include temperature changes, light, or ultrasound, while internal processes involve changes in tumors’ environment compared to surrounding tissue. Currently, researchers are working to figure out how to use heat and ultrasound to release diagnostic molecules and drugs from liposomes and microbubbles.
The diagnostic applications currently researched can be used for both in vitro and in vivo diagnoses. In vitro, biomolecules can be recognized, captured, and concentrated using synthesized particles and manipulation or detection devices. Synthetic molecular assemblies are primarily used as a contrast agent in vivo.
Diagnostic methods based on nanotechnology that are currently being developed may have two main advantages:
- Rapid testing, perhaps in a doctor’s office, will make for a complete diagnosis and therapy to begin in just one visit.
- Disease detection at an earlier stage than is currently available with existing methods has the potential to stop a disease sooner, potentially with less harm to the patient.
It is a new multidisciplinary field that aims to use cell therapy and tissue engineering techniques to repair, refine, and maintain cells, tissues, and organs. It is possible to interact with cell components, regulate cell proliferation and differentiation, and produce extracellular matrices using nanotechnology.
Modern nanomedicine uses meticulously structured nanoparticles such as dendrimers, carbon fullerenes, and nanoshells to target specific tissues and organs. These nanoparticles will be used as antiviral, antitumor, or anticancer agents in diagnostic and clinical settings. Complex nanodevices and even nanorobots will be manufactured in the coming years, first from biological materials and then from more durable materials like a diamond to achieve better results. Because the human body is made up of molecules, the availability of molecular nanotechnology would allow for significant progress in addressing medical issues and the application of molecular expertise to sustain and enhance human health on a molecular level.
This list does not exhaust the gamut of possibilities presented by the kind of research taking place in the field of nanomedicine. While these ideas may seem improbable, implausible, or even sound as heresy at the moment, theoretical and applied research to make them a reality is moving at a fast pace. Nanotechnology will have a more significant impact on the practice of medicine, healthcare, and human life than many previous innovations