How Does Nanotechnology Impact Medicine?
Nanomedicine is defined as a combination of both science and the technology that utilizes nanoscale structured materials to diagnose, treat and prevent disease and traumatic injury. This field of medicine is particularly interested in addressing challenges and shortcomings of conventional medical treatments including poor bioavailability and target specificity, as well as potential systemic and organ toxicity.
At the nanoscale, these particles exhibit a number of advantageous properties as compared to their bulk counterparts, some of which include:
- Enabling the soluble aqueous dispersions of active, but poorly soluble molecular agents
- Protection from degradation by endogenous defense mechanisms, such as:
- Enzymatic degradation
- Sequestration by the reticuloendothelial system (RES) in the bloodstream
- Acid hydrolysis in the stomach
- Mucociliary clearance in the lungs1
- Cellular and subcellular specificity to target specific organs and tissues in the body
- Multimodal; can perform both diagnostic and therapeutic functions simultaneously
Nanomedicine can further be divided into numerous categories, some of which include:
- Nanocarriers for Drug Delivery
- Nanorobotic Devices
A number of medical diagnostic techniques that are based on nanotechnology continue to emerge in the world of research. For example, NanoFlares are nanoparticles that are designed to specifically bind and generate a light to target cancer cells, thereby allowing for the accurate and precise detection of method cancer cells throughout the body2. NanoFlares is especially useful for the detection of cancer cells in the blood stream.
Additional advances in nanodiagnostics involve the use of nanoparticles that will attach to cancer tumors and release peptides that hold a high concentration of the biomarkers that typically indicate of the very early stages of cancer2. By identifying cancer at these stages, even before the appearance of noticeable symptoms would greatly increase the prognosis of cancer patients.
The use of magnetic nanoparticles combined with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technology has also been shown to allow early diagnosis of brain cancer, as the magnetic nanoparticles can attach to microvesicles2, which are particles within the bloodstream that originate in brain cancer cells. These are just a few of the innumerable research initiatives that are currently taking place in the intercept of nanotechnology and medicine.
Nanocarriers for Drug Delivery
The composition, size, biodegradability, morphology and surface functionality of polymeric nanocarriers can be specifically designed for a variety of medical applications including sensing, imaging, and therapeutics1. As drug delivery systems, nanocarriers can be specifically designed to release drugs following controlled biodegradation of the polymer or activation of a certain stimulus.
Additionally, biodegradable polymeric nanoparticles that contain a heteroatom backbone, such as those derived from polyesters, poly(amino esters), polyamides and chitosan, can facilitate hydrolysis and bond cleavage to provide a controlled drug release in the patient.
Some novel approaches involved in the integration between nanotechnology and dentistry have been found in research studies investigating local anesthetics, the treatment of dentition renaturalization and permanent hypersensitivity cure, single as well as for use in orthodontic realignments or as dental nanorobotics.
For example, nanorobots can be utilized for specific motility mechanisms to navigate through human tissue, alter nerve impulse traffic in individual nerve cells or as dendrifices that deliver mouthwash or toothpaste at least once a day to metabolize any trapped organic matter that can be the source of foul breath odors3. To control these nanorobots, an internal nanocomputer executes preprogrammed instructions to respond to the stimuli of local neuronal sensors.