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The Vanguard of Medical Innovations


nanotechnology, the scientific student, magazine, science

It may come as a surprise to hear that nanotechnology is at the vanguard of medical innovations. Indeed, it is revolutionizing the field of medicine. Here, let me tell you how!

With a backpack on my shoulders, laptop in hand, and sunglasses over my eyes, I navigated my way through North Carolina’s humidity alongside my new summer friend, Carly. This past summer, I had the privilege of working alongside students my age at a two-week long program at one of the nation’s top schools – Duke University. We learned about cutting-edge technological innovations in the medical field and did extensive research to find out more.

Where did nanotechnology come from?

One of the areas of innovation we looked at was nanotechnology. It encompasses the understanding of science, medicine, engineering, computing and robotics at the molecular scale – at nanometre scale, or nanoscale.* We spent countless hours in the library searching through PubMed, a medical database. It is comprised of 25 million citations for biomedical literature and life science journals. Not many people know about nanotechnology and the ever-changing effects that it has in our lives. Thus, I would like to shed light on this innovation by sharing some of my research and fascinating findings in the field.

It was only discovered in the second half of the twentieth century by Richard Feynman, who proposed the idea of molecular-sized machines. As a result, it remains a relatively new realm, full of untapped potential. As time progresses, nanotechnology is constantly changing to our advantage, given the Federal Budget’s issuance of $1.5 billion to the National Nanotechnology Initiative this past year. Because of this investment in our future, the knowledge of nanotechnology will continue to spread amongst people far and wide.

What exactly does nanotechnology do?

With nanotechnology, we can gain access to so many areas of the body—something unimaginable a few decades ago. It can aid in diagnosing as well as treating illnesses. It can detect early onset diseases and thus help in disease development prevention. For instance, “quantum dots” are nanocrystals that improve biological imaging resolution up to 1000 times compared to using conventional dyes or MRIs for medical diagnostics! In addition, nanotechnology can aid in cancer treatment. With nanotechnology, surgeries could potentially become quicker and more accurate. Injuries can be repaired cell-by-cell. It may also be a great help in drug development as they can be better tailored and refined.

The most successful nanomedicine, currently being tested in clinical cancer care, are drug conjugates. The conjugate is intended to improve targeted delivery of the drug to the cancerous cells, ultimately ridding the body of harmful side effects caused by other treatments like chemotherapy and radiation.

Unfortunately, the production of nanotechnology is expensive and slow, and the processes are still being discovered and tested out. With a rapid rate of expansion of the field, issues stemming from research, safety, regulation and production are becoming increasingly important. Once methods are further developed and perfected, the use of nanotechnology will help keep people healthy by early diagnosis of diseases and improved treatment. Ultimately, it may provide a method for determining why certain medical issues occur.

As the field of nanotechnology is quickly changing, it is likely to play an important role in the future of medicine. Who knows what will be transformed next using nanotechnology? Maybe the cure for cancer will be discovered. Whatever will happen, there is a bright future ahead for medicine — thanks to nanotechnology.

*Any nanoscale devices must, by definition, have at least one dimension sized from 1-100 nanometers. A nanometer is 10-9 meters in SI units, which is about 1/80,000 the width of human hair.

Andreas Wicki, Dominik Witzigmann, Vimalkumar Balasubramanian, Jörg Huwyler, Nanomedicine in cancer therapy: Challenges, opportunities, and clinical applications, Journal of Controlled Release, Volume 200, 28 February 2015, Pages 138-157, ISSN 0168-3659

Edited by: Nelli Morgulchik and Daryn Dever