Nanotechnology's Role in Healthcare
NANOTECHNOLOGY IN MEDICINE
Applications of nanotechnology in medicine currently being developed involve employing nanoparticles to deliver drugs, heat, light, or other substances to speciﬁc cells in the human body. This utilization of particles allows the detection and/or treatment of diseases or injuries within the targeted cells, thereby minimizing the damage to healthy cells in the body. Currently, nanotechnology is applied extensively to provide targeted drug therapy, diagnostics, tissue regeneration, cell culture, biosensors, and other tools in the ﬁeld of molecular biology. Developing nanotechnology includes fullerenes, nanotubes, quantum dots, nanopores, dendrimers, liposomes, magnetic nanoprobes, and radio-controlled nanoparticles.
Fig. 1: Biological Barriers to precision medicine applications. An overview highlighting some of the biological barriers that nanoparticles (Nps) can overcome (inner ring) and some precision medicine applications that may beneﬁt from NPS (outer ring). As explored in this review, intelligent NP designs that improve delivery have the potential to enhance the performance of precision medicines and, thus, accelerate their clinical translation.
Liposomes (phospholipid-based vesicles) have been investigated since 1970 as a system for the delivery or targeting of drugs to specific sites in the body. Because of their structural versatility in terms of size, composition, surface charge, bilayer fluidity, and ability to incorporate almost any drug regardless of solubility, or to carry on their surface cell-speciﬁc ligands, liposomes have the potential to be tailored in a variety of ways to ensure the production of formulations that are optimal for clinical use. This includes controlled retention of entrapped drugs in the presence of biological fluids, controlled vesicle residence in the blood circulation or other compartments in the body, and enhanced vesicle uptake by target cells.
Designed in 1997 by Desai and Ferrari17, Nanopore consists of wafers with a high density of pores (20 nm in diameter). The pores allow the entry of oxygen, glucose, and other products like insulin to pass through. However, they do not allow immunoglobulin and cells to pass through them. Nanopores can be used as agents to protect transplanted tissues from the host immune system, and at the same time, utilize the beneﬁt of transplantation.
In 1991, carbon nanotubes were discovered to be tubular structures like sheets of graphite rolled into cylinders capped at one or both ends by a buckyball. These are characterized by greater strength and stability, making them stable drug carriers. Cell specificity can be achieved by conjugating antibodies to carbon nanotubes using fluorescence or radiolabelling. Currently, Nanocrystalline silver is used as an antimicrobial agent in the treatment of wounds. But it is crucial to mention that most applications of nanotechnology in medicine are still under development. The following applications will also be released in the near future:
Qdots that identify the location of cancer cells in the body.
Nanoparticles that deliver chemotherapy drugs directly to cancer cells.
Nanoshells concentrate the heat from infrared light to destroy cancer cells with minimal damage to surrounding healthy cells.
Nanotubes are used in broken bones to provide a structure for new bone material to grow.
Nanoparticles can attach themselves to cells infected with various diseases and allow a doctor to identify the particular disease in a blood sample.
Although the expectations from nanotechnology in medicine are high and the potential beneﬁts are endlessly listed, the safety of nanomedicine is not yet fully defined. The use of nanotechnology in medical therapeutics needs adequate evaluation of its risk and safety factors. However, it is possible that nanomedicine in the future would play a crucial role in the treatment of human diseases and also in the enhancement of normal human physiology. With the concurrent application of nanotechnology in other fields, its utility is likely to extend further into diagnostics, molecular research techniques, and tools.
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According to the National Science Foundation and NNI, “Nanotechnology is the ability to understand, control and manipulate matter at the level of individual atoms and molecules.”
Nanomedicine involves the utilization of nanotechnology for the beneﬁt of human health and well-being. Nanotechnology revolutionized the ﬁeld of medicine in various sectors. Nanoparticles of dimensions ranging between 1 - 100 nanometers (nm) are designed and used for diagnostics, therapeutics, and biomedical tools for research.
It is now possible to provide therapy at a molecular level with the help of these tools, thus treating diseases and assisting in researching the pathogenesis of a disease. Conventional drugs have major limitations due to adverse effects caused by non-speciﬁcity of drug action and lack of efﬁcacy due to improper or ineffective dosage formulation (e.g. cancer chemotherapy and antidiabetic agents). Designing drugs with a greater degree of cell speciﬁcity improves efﬁciency and minimizes adverse effects. Diagnostic methods with a greater degree of sensitivity aid in the early detection of a disease and provide a better prognosis.