By Will Soutter
The introduction of minute particles into the body to treat disease or repair damage may sound like something out of science fiction, but recent advances in nanomedicine leave researchers increasingly hopeful about the viability of medicinal opportunities on the nanoscale.
According to hundreds of studies currently underway, nanotechnology could be leading us into a new medical revolution.
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Nanomedicine and Cancer
One area where nanomedicine research is strong is in cancer treatment. Nanoparticles, which can be 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, can be used to target specific cells in the body.
Traditional cancer treatments use a shotgun approach, exposing the body to harsh toxic chemicals. Scientists hope to use nanotechnology to create drugs which target only cancerous cells, reducing the side effects of chemotherapy while delivering treatments that are more potent.
Clinical trials are already underway in some areas. One technology developed by Nanoprobes was shown to successfully destroy cancerous cells in mice by overheating them using a magnetic field. Results showed that the mice who received the treatment were much more likely to survive, and recovered in just a few days. The company is currently planning the next phase of clinical trials.
Nanotechnology may also increase the efficacy of pharmaceutical research. The targeted nature of nanomedicine reduces the time it takes for researchers to observe feedback on how cells respond to treatment. Experts suggest that testing flu treatments through gold-backed nanoparticles would bring immediate lab results and allow medications to be manufactured quickly.
Faster treatment would reduce the spread of flu germs, possibly averting global pandemics. According to scientists, widespread commercial testing using nanotechnology is likely to be seen within five years.
Questions of Nanotoxicity
Nanomedicine is a relatively new branch of pharmacology, and there are still many unanswered questions.
The possible toxicity of nanoparticles, and how those particles may affect the body long-term, is still being debated.
These questions have created roadblocks between research and marketable medicine. Scientists are working together to answer such questions to pave the way for FDA approval on future nanomedicine treatments.
Relatively young though the science may be, investors and government organizations see the promise inherent in nanomedicine. Recently, researchers at the University of Buffalo received several grants from the National Institutes of Health for research on nanomedicine for the treatment of tuberculosis.
The resources being poured into nanotechnology across the research world seems to indicate that nanomedicine may become a common part of healthcare in the not too distant future.