Student Handout on Nanotechnology in Medicine
Created by UnderstandingNano.com


This lesson was created to give you an introduction to the applications of nanotechnology in medicine (nanomedicine).

I.  The Concept of Nanomedicine

Definition: Nanomedicine is use of nanotechnology to diagnose, treat, and prevent disease.

Question: Can you think of applications in the area of healthcare that would benefit from the ability to control things at the nano level?

Reading 1: Read the Nanotechnology in Medicine page (www.understandingnano.com/medicine.html).

Essay: Write a brief report about either of these topics relating to the basic concepts of nanotechnology in medicine:

  • You learned in this introduction that scientists are exploring the use of manufactured nano-robots to make repairs at the cellular level. Go to the Nano-robots In Medicine page and read the article. Come up with a definition and brief description of what a nanorobot is and how it works.
  • Dramatic changes to the way we treat patients are likely to come about with the use of nanotechnology. Write a description of other revolutions in medicine and the impact they had on the world. Examples might include the development of penicillin, x-rays, or anesthesia.

2. Explore an Application of Nanotechnology in Medicine

Discussion 1: Targeted drug delivery is one very promising area for the use of nanotechnology. One aspect of targeted drug delivery is that it can decrease or get rid of side effects to treatments such as chemotherapy. Discuss with your fellow students some common side effects of treatments for conditions such as a cold or allergy. Would people prefer to use a cold treatment that didn't make them drowsy or dizzy, or anti-inflammatory medications that wouldn't harm their stomach if taken without food? If someone had a more serious condition, what could it mean to them to get rid of drug delivery side effects?

Reading 2: Pick one of the medical application pages on the UnderstandingNano Web site (www.understandingnano.com/medical.html) to read. If you wish you can also explore pages on Cancer Treatments, Heart Disease, Life Extension and Nanorobots.  Research the FDA procedure for getting approval for new drugs, and then put together a visual timeline for that procedure. Identify where on that timeline some of the drugs discussed on the site are.

3. The Future of Nanotechnology in Medicine

Nanotechnology holds the promise of eradicating several major diseases such as cancer and heart disease.  What could this mean to our world?

Discussion 2: Discuss one of these topics with your class or group.

  • If people did not die of disease, our world population would soar. What would this mean to the world's economy? Would the savings in medical costs and treatments offset the larger population? What would happen to the healthcare and insurance industries if people only died of accidents, and never got diseases or even a cold?
  • Historically when one disease is eradicated new strains or new diseases appeared. We eradicated small pox and later aids appeared. The strain of influenza that killed millions in the early 1900's was controlled, but new strains of influenza surface on a regular basis. Viruses mutate and continue to attack the human body. At the same time, some antibiotics become ineffective with overuse. If we get rid of current diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, will new diseases appear to take their place?

Optional Activity: Contact a company or lab identified on this site as working to eradicate a disease. Ask how close they are to eradicating the disease, and what implications they see if humans are no longer victims of it.

Conclusion: The use of nanotechnology in medicine offers great potential for improving our lives, and that, as with any scientific breakthrough, it may have both good and unforeseen consequences.


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