Nanotechnology has a multitude of applications, and its uses in medicine are shaping the future of the health industry. However, much of applied nanotechnology is still in development, in various stages of testing, or yet to be fully conceived. However, nanotechnology is making waves in the application of drug delivery, in new therapy techniques and with cell repair.
Nanotechnology & Drug Delivery
For instance, an application of nanotechnology in medicine that is currently being developed involves the use of nanoparticles to deliver drugs, heat and light to specific cells in the human body. In particular, nanoparticles can be directed to specific cells, such as cancer cells in new chemotherapy practices. Specifically, said nanoparticles can be engineered to be attracted to cancer cells, which allow them to directly kill or treat the disease. This highly localised application of chemotherapy drugs also reduces damage to healthy cells, and so, can improve a cancer prognosis and reduce the side-effects of its treatment.
An additional application of Nanotechnology in medicine can be seen in ‘nanosponges’, so named as they absorb toxins from the blood stream. For instance, the nanosponges are polymer nanoparticles that are coated with a red blood cell membrane, which facilities the technology’s movement throughout the human bloodstream. Specifically, nanoparticles have been used for a variety of preventative measures, such as wound care. By contrast, ‘Silverware’ nanosponges contain small silver nanoparticles that possess an antimicrobial faculty.
Examples of medical therapies involving nanotechnology
- Nanoparticle cream which releases nitric oxide gas which is used to treat staphylococcus infections.
- Self-assembling nanofibre scaffold used to support stem cells which can then be used to regenerate damaged tissues, such as the delicate pulp inside decayed teeth.
- X-ray activated nanoparticles that emit electrons which cause the destruction of cancer cells, effectively acting as a less damaging method of radiotherapy which does not destroy as many healthy cells.
- Nanotubes which are attracted to proteins produced by cancer cells, infrared light from a laser is then directed at the nanotubes which generates enough heat to incinerate the cancer cell.
Moreover, there is currently research (at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute), which is using antibodies attached to carbon nanotubes in chips to detect cancer cells in the blood stream. This application can be used to facilitate cancer diagnoses, thus improving the overall prognosis by catching the cancer at an earlier stage.
Nanotechnology & Cell Repair
Nanotechnology also has medical applications in the realm of cell repair. Although the technique is still in development, nanorobots can theoretically be programmed to repair specific diseased cells, a concept that seems lifted from science-fiction.
However, this application is becoming a reality, and sees said nanorobot function in a similar way to human antibodies – honing in on specific cells and chromosomes.