By Will Soutter
Nanotechnology Solutions for
As our ability increases to work with matter on the
scale of nanometers, we are finding more and more applications for
nanomaterials across a huge range of industries. The field of medicine
will be amongst the most affected by the rise
of nanotechnology, as it coincides with our increasing understanding of
biology and medicine on the molecular scale.
Nanostructures, which are of a suitable size scale to interact
directly with many biological structures and systems, are going to be a
vital tool for physicians to gain better information about patient's
bodies, and will allow them to work directly with the body to prevent
and cure diseases.
Figure 1. Gold
nanoparticles functionalized with DNA, RNA or protein strands can be
used to deliver drugs to the place in the body where they are needed.
A major focus of nanomedicine research to date has been novel
methods of targeted drug delivery using nanocapsules and functionalized
nanoparticles. Nanoformulations of existing drugs can enable simpler
administration, increased safety, or increased efficacy. There has also
been a great deal of research interest in nano-enhanced diagnostic
Nanoparticles and other nanostructured devices have been found to be
more effective at detecting or quantifying disease markers than more
conventional counterparts, particularly when looking for very small
quantities of a chemical.
Antimicrobial surfaces and products using nanoparticles are also
becoming more and more commonplace, in consumer products as well as in
medical equipment such as catheters, dressings, and surgical tools.
Silver nanoparticles, the most commonly used antimicrobial nanocoating,
has been shown to be highly effective at destroying a range of bacteria
and other microbes - much more effective than silver in its bulk form.
|Figure 2. Tumor cells
can be targeted using functionalized nanoparticles. The principles of
personalized medicine can help to design the nanodrug to be as
effective as possible for each patient.
Personalized medicine is a huge movement in the modern medical
world. It aims to move away from the traditional practice of
prescribing standard doses of standard drugs for a condition to every
patient, and shifts the focus onto targeting the precise drug and dose
required according to the patient's physiology.
This is achieved by detecting and tracking molecular biomarkers,
which indicate the presence and level of activity of a particular
biological system in a patient's body, whether inherent or foreign.
Another major part of the emerging field of personalized medicine is
pharmacogenomics - analyzing the genetic makeup of the patient to
determine whether a particular medication will be successful, or if it
will have any adverse effects.
This is particularly important in cancer treatment, where the
chemotherapy drugs used can be very damaging to healthy cells as well
as cancerous ones, and the exact genetics of the tumor cells can vary
widely between patients, and even between locations in one patient's
for Personalized Medicine
Most of the recent developments in personalized medicine have been
directed at better diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Cancer is one of
the biggest killers, and existing treatments can usually only improve
the patient's chances - an outright cure is very rare.
Personalization of the treatment of cancer is a promising way to
increase our ability to fight cancer, however, without necessarily
requiring discovery of a revolutionary breakthrough drug. By
determining which drugs a particular patient will respond best to, and
the correct dosage, the possibility of adverse side effects can be
There are several ways in which nanotechnology can help with these
developments - primarily by making the diagnostic processes simpler,
quicker, or less invasive by requiring less tissue.
Genetic analysis is a crucial part of personalized medicine,
particularly in cancer treatments where the genetic signals can be so
varied. Techniques are being developed for high-throughput DNA
sequencing using nanopores, to obtain genetic information from a
patient so that targeted medication can be selected as rapidly as
The unique electronic and mechanical properties of nanostructured
carbon materials like carbon nanotubes and graphene very interesting as
the active components of nanosensors, which can detect incredibly small
concentrations of a biomarker - in some cases down to as little as a
Many of these technologies can be combined into a "lab-on-a-chip" -
a portable diagnostic device which will be able to run tests rapidly
and without requiring a large sample of tissue or blood. These devices
will be able to be used in GP's offices, or in remote locations, which
will make a huge difference to the speed at which a definite diagnosis
can be given - a crucial step for cancer patients, where their chances
can depend very strongly upon how early treatment starts.
Graphene nanopores can be used to sequence DNA. The DNA can
pass through the pores, preventing the flow of ions through the pore,
resulting in a characteristic electrical signal.
This research was published in Nature in 2010.
This sort of technology will also have a huge impact as the concept
of personalized medicine spreads to include the treatment of a broader
range of diseases. A commercial lab-on-a-chip, capable of diagnosing
diseases rapidly, and providing the physician with enough information
about the patient's physiology to select the correct drugs and dosages,
would transform the world of medicine completely.
As well as providing a wider range of drugs by introducing the
concept of nanoformulations, nanotechnology is capable of providing
medical professionals with a vastly greater set of diagnostic tools,
with less invasive procedures, and more rapid results. This will help
to usher in the new age of personalized medicine, where all the
additional data about the patient can be leveraged to tune the
treatment to their precise needs.
This will have a particularly strong impact in cancer treatment,
where the chemotherapy drugs which will have the least adverse effects
on the patient can be selected. Drug delivery systems using
functionalized nanoparticles can also be used in tandem with the
diagnostic techniques to improve targeting of drugs to particular parts
of the body.
As with all aspects of nanomedicine, there is a complex regulatory
minefield to navigate before these technologies can see public use.
Targeted drug delivery systems must be shown to be safe and reliable
enough, and diagnostic systems must demonstrate a sufficient degree of
accuracy. However, the benefits available from exploitation of this
technology should drive the process forwards, and new research is
emerging all the time which strengthens the case for nanotechnology in