Nanotechnology in Medical Diagnostic Techniques

Nanotechnology based diagnostic techniques currently under development may provide two major benefits:

  • Rapid testing, potentially in a doctors office may allow complete diagnosis and start of treatment within one visit to the doctor.
  • The detection of diseases at an earlier stage than possible with current techniques offers the potential of stopping a disease earlier, possibly with less damage to the patient.

This page provides a survey of the nanotechnology based methods being developed to improve medical diagnostics.

Nanotechnology in Medical Diagnostics: Techniques under Development

Researchers at the Wyss Institute have demonstrated a point of use diagnostic system in which they have replaced gold nanowires with graphene oxide nanoflakes which reduces the cost, increasing the possibility of commercial use of the system.

Researchers at the University of Maryland are using gold nanoparticles to develop a quick diagnostic test for Covid-19

Researchers at the University of Central Florida are using nanoparticles with nickel-rich cores and platinum-rich shells to develop a method for early cancer detection.

Researchers at Duke University are using silver-plated gold nanostars in a sensor to detect RNA molecules that are early indicators of cancer.

Researchers at UC San Diego are developing a method to collect and analyze nano sized exosomes to check for biomarkers indicating pancreatic cancer.

Researchers at Osaka University have combined nanopore sensors with artificial intelligence techniques and demonstrated that they can identify single virus particles. This method may provide rapid, point of use, identification of viruses.

A method for detecting cancer cells in the bloodstream is being developed using nanoparticles called NanoFlares. The NanoFlares are designed bind to genetic targets in cancer cells, and generate light when that particular genetic target is found.

Researchers at Nagoya University are developing a nanowire based sensor to detect indicators of bladder and prostate cancer in urine samples.

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 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.

Researchers have developed a method to capture individual cancer cells circulating in the blood stream. They use nanofibers coated with antibodies that bind to cancer cells, trapping the cancer cell for analysis.

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.

Nanoparticles can attach to proteins or other molecules, allowing detection of disease indicators in a lab sample at a very early stage. There are several efforts to develop nanoparticle disease detection systems underway. One system being developed by Nanosphere, Inc. uses gold nanoparticles, Nanosphere has clinical study results with their Verigene system involving it's ability to detect four different nucleic acids, while another system being developed by T2 Biosystems uses magnetic nanoparticles to identify specimens, including proteins, nucleic acids, and other materials.  

Gold nanoparticles that have antibodies attached can provide quick diagnosis of flu virus. When light is directed on a sample containing virus particles and the nanoparticles the amount of light reflected back increases because the nanoparticles cluster around virus particles, allowing a much faster test than those currently used.

A method for early detection of a disease uses nanoparticles that form clumps when they attach to proteins or other molecules that indicate the disease being tested for. The test is intended to be inexpensive and simple to perform. The solution turns blue if the nanoparticles are clumped around a protein indicating the disease, if the protein is not present the solution is red.

Quantum Dots (qdots) may be used in the future for locating cancer tumors in patients and in the near term for performing diagnostic tests in samples. Invitrogen's website provides information about qdots that are available for both uses, although at this time the use "in vivo" (in a living creature) is limited to experiments with lab animals. Concerns about the toxicity of the material that quantum dots are made from is one of the reasons restricting the use of quantum dots in human patients. However, work is being done with quantum dots composed of silicon, which is believed to be less toxic than the cadmium contained in many quantum dots.

Gold nanoparticles, in combination with fluorescent protein, is being used in a system under development to diagnosis which type of cancer is present.

Researchers have determined that cancer cell in the blood stream can be captured on nano-roughened glass plates. Capturing these cancer cells will help researchers understand how cancer spreads from tumors.

Iron oxide nanoparticles can used to improve MRI images of cancer tumors. The nanoparticle is coated with a peptide that binds to a cancer tumor, once the nanoparticles are attached to the tumor the magnetic property of the iron oxide enhances the images from the Magnetic Resonance Imagining scan.


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