The use of nanotechnology in medicine offers some exciting possibilities. Some techniques are only imagined, while others are at various stages of testing, or actually being used today.
Nanotechnology in medicine involves applications of nanoparticles currently under development, as well as longer range research that involves the use of manufactured nano-robots to make repairs at the cellular level (sometimes referred to as nanomedicine).
Whatever you call it, the use of nanotechnology in the field of medicine could revolutionize the way we detect and treat damage to the human body and disease in the future, and many techniques only imagined a few years ago are making remarkable progress towards becoming realities.
One application of nanotechnology in medicine currently being developed involves employing nanoparticles to deliver drugs, heat, light or other substances to specific types of cells (such as cancer cells). Particles are engineered so that they are attracted to diseased cells, which allows direct treatment of those cells. This technique reduces damage to healthy cells in the body and allows for earlier detection of disease.
For example, nanoparticles that deliver chemotherapy drugs directly to cancer cells are under development. Tests are in progress for targeted delivery of chemotherapy drugs and their final approval for their use with cancer patients is pending. One company, CytImmune has published the preliminary results of a Phase 1 Clinical Trial of their first targeted chemotherapy drug and another company, BIND Biosciences, has published preliminary results of a Phase 1 Clinical Trial for their first targeted chemotherapy drug.
Another technique delivers chemotherapy drugs to cancer cells and also applies heat to the cell. Researchers are using gold nanorods to which DNA strands are attached. The DNA strands act as a scaffold, holding together the nanorod and the chemotherapy drug. When Infrared light illuminates the cancer tumor the gold nanorod absorbs the infrared light, turning it into heat. The heat both releases the chemotherapy drug and helps destroy the cancer cells.
Researchers have developed nanoparticles that release insulin when glucose levels rise. The nanoparticles contain both insulin and an enzyme that dissolve in high levels of glucose. When the enzyme dissolves the insulin is released. In lab test these nanoparticles were able to control blood sugar levels for several days.
Researchers are also developing a nanoparticle to defeat viruses. The nanoparticle does not actually destroy viruses molecules, but delivers an enzyme that prevents the reproduction of viruses molecules in the patients bloodstream.
Other researchers are developing nanoparticles that can delivery drugs across the brain barrier to tackle neurologic disorders.
Researchers are developing a method to increase the immune response generated by vaccines by attaching the vaccine molecules to a DNA nanostructure that delivers the vaccine molecules to specific cells that are key in triggering white blood cells to an immune response.
Read more about nanomedicine in drug delivery
Researchers have developed "nanosponges" that absorb toxins and remove them from the bloodstream. The nanosponges are polymer nanoparticles coated with a red blood cell membrane. The red blood cell membrane allows the nanosponges to travel freely in the bloodstream and attract the toxins.
Researchers have demonstrated a method to generate sound waves that are powerful, but also tightly focused, that may eventually be used for noninvasive surgery. They use a lens coated with carbon nanotubes to convert light from a laser to focused sound waves. The intent is to develop a method that could blast tumors or other diseased areas without damaging healthy tissue.
Researchers are investigating the use of bismuth nanoparticles to concentrate radiation used in radiation therapy to treat cancer tumors. Initial results indicate that the bismuth nanoparticles would increase the radiation dose to the tumor by 90 percent.
Nanoparticles composed of polyethylene glycol-hydrophilic carbon clusters (PEG-HCC) have been shown to absorb free radicals at a much higher rate than the proteins out body uses for this function. This ability to absorb free radicals may reduce the harm that is caused by the release of free radicals after a brain injury.
Targeted heat therapy is being developed to destroy breast cancer tumors. In this method antibodies that are strongly attracted to proteins produced in one type of breast cancer cell are attached to nanotubes, causing the nanotubes to accumulate at the tumor. Infrared light from a laser is absorbed by the nanotubes and produces heat that incinerates the tumor.
Nanofibers can stimulate the production of cartilage in damaged joints. Three different approaches to the use of nanofibers to stimulate cartilage are being taken by researchers at John Hopkins University, at Northwestern University and at the University of Pennsylvania.
Read more about nanomedicine therapy techniques
Researchers are developing a nanoparticle intended to make very early detection of cancer tumors easier. When the nanoparticles attach to a cancer tumors the nanoparticles release "biomarkers", molecules called peptides. The idea is that since each nanoparticle carries several peptides a high concentration of these biomarkers will occur even at very early stages of cancer, allowing early detection of the disease.
A test for early detection of kidney damage is being developed. The method uses gold nanorods functionalized to attach to the type of protein generated by damaged kidneys. When protein accumulates on the nanorod the color of the nanorod shifts. The test is designed to be done quickly and inexpensively for early detection of a problem.
A method for early diagnosis of brain cancer under development uses magnetic nanoparticles and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technology. The magnetic nanoparticles attach to particles in the blood stream called microvesicles which originate in brain cancer cells. NMR is then used to detect these microvesicle/magnetic nanoparticle clusters, allowing an early diagnosis.
Carbon nanotubes and gold nanoparticles are being used in a sensor that detects proteins indicative of oral cancer. Tests have shown this sensor to be accurate in detecting oral cancer and provides results in less than an hour.
Silver nanorods in a diagnostic system are being used to separate viruses, bacteria and other microscopic components of blood samples, allowing clearer Raman spectroscopy signals of the components. This methods has been demonstrated to allow identification of viruses and bacteria in less than an hour.
Read more about nanomedicine diagnostic techniques
One of the earliest nanomedicine applications was the use of nanocrystalline silver which is as an antimicrobial agent for the treatment of wounds, as discussed on the Nucryst Pharmaceuticals Corporation website.
A nanoparticle cream has been shown to fight staph infections. The nanoparticles contain nitric oxide gas, which is known to kill bacteria. Studies on mice have shown that using the nanoparticle cream to release nitric oxide gas at the site of staph abscesses significantly reduced the infection.
Burn dressing that is coated with nanocapsules containing antibotics. If a infection starts the harmful bacteria in the wound causes the nanocapsules to break open, releasing the antibotics. This allows much quicker treatment of an infection and reduces the number of times a dressing has to be changed.
A welcome idea in the early study stages is the elimination of bacterial infections in a patient within minutes, instead of delivering treatment with antibiotics over a period of weeks. You can read about design analysis for the antimicrobial nanorobot used in such treatments in the following article: Microbivores: Artifical Mechanical Phagocytes using Digest and Discharge Protocol.
Nanorobots could actually be programmed to repair specific diseased cells, functioning in a similar way to antibodies in our natural healing processes. Read about design analysis for one such cell repair nanorobot in this article: The Ideal Gene Delivery Vector: Chromallocytes, Cell Repair Nanorobots for Chromosome Repair Therapy
|CytImmune||Gold nanoparticles for targeted delivery of drugs to tumors|
|NanoBio||Nanoemulsions for nasal delivery to fight viruses (such as the flu and colds) or through the skin to fight bacteria|
|NanoBioMagnetics||Magnetically responsive nanoparticles for targeted drug delivery and other applications|
|Nanosphere||Diagnostic testing using gold nanoparticles to detect low levels of proteins indicating particular diseases|
|Nanotherapeutics||Nanoparticles for improving the performance of drug delivery by oral or nasal methods|
|Z-Medica||Medical gauze containing aluminosilicate nanoparticles which help blood clot faster in open wounds.|
|Sirnaomics||Nanoparticle enhanced techniques for delivery of siRNA|
Alliance for NanoHealth; This alliance includes eight research institutions performing collaborative research.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) is funding research at eight Nanomedicine Development Centers.Google+.
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