The Future Impact Of Nanotechnology In Medicine
Bill Gates rightly quoted in one of his Graduation Speeches in 2017, “Try a career in Artificial Intelligence, energy or biosciences to make an impact”. (1)
The advancement in Biosciences has become the need of the hour especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this article, we will look at how Biosciences has become more advanced with Nanotechnology.
Firstly, let me explain what Nanotechnology is.
Nanotechnology is a branch of engineering science which deals with dimensions in the Nano- scale (Nano means dwarf) i.e. 1 nanometer to 100 nanometers. One billionth of a meter is equivalent to one nanometer. (2) To simplify, nanotechnology is the study and application of extremely small things in all the fields of science, physics, chemistry, biotechnology and medicine.
Just to understand how small is a nanometer (3) – Do you know that one strand of our hair is approximately 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers wide? A sheet of paper is about 105 nanometers thick (4) . For a more clear illustration, I can also say that your fingernail grows at a size of one nanometer in one second. It’s just that small!
Almost everything on Earth is composed of atoms. But it is not possible to see the atoms with our naked eye. The microscopes that you use in your science classes cannot show you the Nano scale materials. We need specialized microscopes to see things in the Nano scale such as Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM), Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) etc.
The atoms & molecules in the Nano scale possess unique structural and functional properties. The ability to control individual atoms and molecules advances the medical sector among other industries such as Cosmetics, Manufacturing, etc.
Secondly, let’s discuss the role of nanotechnology in medicine. The Nano-medicine ranges from diagnosis, treatment to control and prevention of various diseases.
Nanotechnology in Treatment
Researchers developed novel Nano-based devices, drugs and drug carriers for efficient treatment of various diseases. Let’s have a look at few nano-based treatments.
Nano-surgery: The Danish group Nanohand developed “Nano-tweezers” (5) that can simultaneously image the surgical site and can also control the surgery with more accuracy. Seems like Science Fiction?! Yes it’s been used for surgeries in hospitals now.
Antibiotics: You are aware of usage of silver only in ornaments right? Nano-silver is non-toxic, fights against hospital acquired infections and surprisingly, does not develop antibiotic resistance.
Implants: Biocompatible Nano-titanium is used in implants for teeth, bone and plastic mesh for hernia surgery. Our human body accepts titanium without rejecting the implant. It even prevents scars and reduces pain.
Drug Delivery Systems: Have you heard of the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines? They are nanotechnology based vaccines that has a main component “Lipid nanoparticles”. The nanoparticle protects; transports and releases the drug effectively. (6)
Nano-robotics: Nano-robots are tiny surgeons functioning inside the human body. Seems impossible right? Nano-robots can enter the human body through our blood vessels and identify the abnormality and also correct them. The cancer cells can also be identified by a Nano-robot, remove the cancer cells without causing damage to normal cells unlike the existing treatment methods such as chemotherapy. (7)
Nanotechnology in Diagnosis
Nano-based techniques such as sensors are efficient in diagnosing the disease early even before the symptom onset. I have detailed few Nano-diagnostic tools below:
Smart Sensors: The Nano-biosensors can distinguish normal cells from cancer cells based on certain increased biomarkers in the blood. The peptide based nanoparticles amplify the biomarkers specific to cancer cells. Cadmium Selenide and Zinc Sulphide quantum dots when inserted in the human body can identify cancer cells because of its unique fluorescent property in the Nano scale. (8)
Micro-electromechanical Systems (MEMS): A smart Nano sized capsule when swallowed can give the image of your gastrointestinal tract and the doctor can identify the exact site of infection, bleeding, etc. How fascinating is it? (8)
There’s so much more to be discovered in the field of Medical Nanotechnology. Being still in the nascent stage, Medical nanotechnology offers great opportunities for improved diagnosis and treatment of diseases for happier, healthier and longer lives.
- [Online] 05 21, 2017. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/05/21/bill-gates-artificial-intelligence-energy-bioscience-best-jobs.html.
- Walker, Kris. Azonano. [Online] https://www.azonano.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=3852.
- [Online] https://www.nano.gov/nanotech-101/what/nano-size.
- Sciencing. [Online] https://sciencing.com/compare-size-atom-7378966.html.
- An alternative method for delivering exogenous material into developing zebrafish embryos. Vikram Kohli 1, Vanesa Robles, M Leonor Cancela, Jason P Acker, Andrew J Waskiewicz, Abdulhakem Y Elezzabi. s.l. : PubMed, 2007.
- Rumiana-Tenchov. Understanding the nanotechnology in COVID-19 vaccines. CAS. [Online] February 18, 2021. https://www.cas.org/resource/blog/understanding-nanotechnology-covid-19-vaccines.
- Current Status of Nanomedicine and Medical Nanoirobotics. Robert A. Freitas, Jr. 1, California : American Scientific Publishers, 2005, Journal of Computational and Theoretical Nanosciences, Vol. 2. 1-25.
- Nanotechnology in Diagnosis: A Review. Tenderwealth Clement Jackson, Bernard Opatimidi Patani, Daniel Effiong Ekpa. 3, Nigeria : Scientific Research An Academic Publisher, 2017, Advances in Nanoparticles, Vol. 6.