Nanotechnology is a field of research and innovation concerned with building 'things' - generally, materials and devices - on the scale of atoms and molecules. A nanometre is one-billionth of a metre: ten times the diameter of a hydrogen atom. The diameter of a human hair is, on average, 80,000 nanometres. Nanotechnology, the manipulation of matter at the atomic and molecular scale to create materials with remarkably varied and new properties, is a rapidly expanding area of research with huge potential in many sectors, ranging from healthcare to construction and electronics. In medicine, it promises to revolutionize drug delivery, gene therapy, diagnostics, and many areas of research, development and clinical application.
This article does not attempt to cover the whole field, but offers, by means of some examples, a few insights into how nanotechnology has the potential to change medicine, both in the research lab and clinically, while touching on some of the challenges and concerns that it raises.
Therapies that involve the manipulation of individual genes, or the molecular pathways that influence their expression, are increasingly being investigated as an option for treating diseases. One highly sought goal in this field is the ability to tailor treatments according to the genetic make-up of individual patients.
Nanobots and Nanostars
DNA-based nanobots are also being created to target cancer cells. For instance, researchers at Harvard Medical School in the US reported recently in Science how they made an “origami nanorobot” out of DNA to transport a molecular payload. The barrel-shaped nanobot can carry molecules containing instructions that make cells behave in a particular way. In their study, the team successfully demonstrates how it delivered molecules that trigger cell suicide in leukemia and lymphoma cells.
Nanofactories that Make Drugs In Situ
Scientists are discovering that protein-based drugs are very useful because they can be programmed to deliver specific signals to cells. But the problem with conventional delivery of such drugs is that the body breaks most of them down before they reach their destination.
Nanofibers are fibers with diameters of less than 1,000 nm. Medical applications include special materials for wound dressings and surgical textiles, materials used in implants, tissue engineering and artificial organ components.
Nanofibers made of carbon also hold promise for medical imaging and precise scientific measurement tools. But there are huge challenges to overcome, one of the main ones being how to make them consistently of the correct size. Historically, this has been costly and time-consuming.
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Journal of Medical Physics and Applied Sciences