Nanomedicine is the application of nanotechnology to the field of medicine, often using materials at the nanometer scale. The most common application of nanomedicine involves employing nanoparticles to enhance the action of drugs in treatment.
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What is Nanomedicine?
Nanotechnology in medicine has grown over the last few decades, with clinical trials and ever-evolving medical applications furthering the growth of the nanomedicine field.
The most common application of nanomedicine involves employing nanoparticles to enhance the action of drugs in treatment, such as to deliver drugs or drug release.
Research in nanomedicine has created targeted drug delivery, new methods of diagnosis and imaging, and the production of hybrid treatments. The benefits of nanomedicine can be divided into the advantages produced by the applications of nanomedicine in nanotherapeutics, nanodiagnostics, nanotheranostics, medical drives, and biomarker detection in metabolomics and proteomics.
Benefits of Nanomedicine: Nanotherapeutics
Many current applications of nanomedicine involve improving drug-delivery systems. Conventional drugs, of which many are only slightly water-soluble, can be faced with absorption difficulties, which impacts the action and efficacy of the drug. It can also mean that larger quantities of the drug must be administered to achieve the desired clinical effect, which can increase the drug's negative side effects. Nanotechnology has been applied to increase the absorbability of drugs; by using nanoparticles, the bioavailability of a drug can be enhanced because of its large surface-area-to-volume ratio.
Nanomedicine is also applicable for drugs absorbed too quickly and removed from the body as waste before treatment can be effective. Nanomedicine can increase the time period in which a drug remains active in the body.
Oncology has also benefitted from developments in nanomedicine. Oncology drugs must specifically target cancerous cells to avoid damage to the surrounding healthy cells. Nanomedicine improves drug target specificity as nanoparticles are engineered to bind to specific targets on cancer cells.
A common characteristic of solid tumors is leaky blood vessels. Nanomedicines, due to their size, preferentially accumulate in tissue through leakage in the blood vessels. They are then retained within the tissue because effective lymphatic drainage is absent in solid tumors.
This important mechanism for nanodrug delivery is called enhanced permeability and retention (EPR) and is an example of passive drug targeting. The accumulation effect is also produced in inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis because blood vessel leakage is a common characteristic of inflamed tissue. Nanomedicine also provides site-specific drug delivery for treating inflammatory diseases through the same accumulation effect as in solid tumors.
Benefits of Nanomedicine: Nanodiagnostics
Nanotechnology has also been applied to diagnostics because of the distinct optical, magnetic and structural properties of nanomaterials which make them suitable for diagnostic imaging and tumor detection.
Nanoparticles have greater adaptable optical and magnetic features than larger materials because of modified quantum mechanics at the nanoscale. Therefore, the simple alteration of nanoparticle size can calibrate properties such as color.
An important aspect of medical diagnostics is the detection and identification of the substance used for diagnostic results. Because various colors can be produced by changing the size of the nanoparticle, this is particularly useful for the color coding and labeling of materials used during diagnostic tests.
Diagnostic imaging is defined as non-invasive methods for identifying and monitoring disease in the body. Nanotechnology is being used to enhance current medical imaging methods, such as nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy for MRI scans.
The images produced are based on exploiting the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei. To produce electromagnetic excitation at the nanoscale, a new method of magnetic field manipulation has been produced via radio-frequency pulses emitted at a micro-second timescale.
This application of nanomedicine allows for the generation of more detailed images, which may eventually help make MRI scans more affordable.
Benefits of Nanomedicine: Nanotheranostics
Theranostics is the combination of diagnostics with therapy. Theranostics is particularly useful in cancer treatment where, in most cases, a radioactive drug is used with an imaging technique to diagnose cancer, and a second radioactive drug is then used to treat the tumor at the primary site as well as any metastatic tumors.
This nanomedicine technique has many advantages in its application in oncology. Nanotechnology-assisted cancer theranostics, also known as cancer theranostics, has the unique advantage of passive and active accumulation of therapeutic action in tumor tissues based on multiple mechanisms.It should be noted that in terms of the diagnostic element of theranostics, a diagnosis has already been performed for the majority of cases to choose the most appropriate chemo-therapeutic drug.
The imaging agents are most often utilized for predicting patient response and monitoring treatment efficacy over time. Imaging agents can also be used for predicting side effects in certain patients by providing data on potential non-target accumulation sites in healthy tissue.
Benefits of Nanomedicine: Medical Devices
Research is underway exploring how nanotechnology can be leveraged to improve existing medical devices such as defibrillators, pacemakers, and stents. Already, nanotechnology has allowed pacemakers to be miniaturized and fully implanted inside the right ventricle, eliminating pockets and scarring.
This field of nanomedicine also has the potential to reduce the risks associated with certain medical devices. Silver nanoparticles, for example, are being employed as an antimicrobial agent, protecting patients from possible infection from medical devices such as pacemakers, stents, cannulas, artificial heart valves, and catheters.
Benefits of Nanomedicine: Biomarker Detection
Nanomedicine is also vastly improving the fields of metabolomics and proteomics by enhancing biomarker detection. These emerging fields of science focus on studying metabolites and protein profiles and their relationship to disease.
Nanoparticles are more sensitive to biomarkers, and can, therefore, more accurately detect biomarkers in samples, even in low concentrations. The use of nanoparticles in this application is helping to develop our understanding of various diseases as well as inform doctors on how patients should be treated.
References and Further Reading
Abass Sofi, M. et al. (2022) ‘An overview of antimicrobial and anticancer potential of silver nanoparticles’, Journal of King Saud University - Science, 34(2), p. 101791. doi:10.1016/j.jksus.2021.101791.
Clinam Research Lab [online]. European Foundation for Clinical Nanomedicine. Available at: https://clinam.org/?page_id=389 (Accessed May 2023)
Daubert, JC. et al. (2014) ‘L'avenir des dispositifs électriques implantables à visée cardiaque [Future of implantable electrical cardiac devices]’. Bull Acad Natl Med, 198(3):473-87. PMID: 2642729
Rizzo, L.Y. et al. 2013. Recent Progress in Nanomedicine: Therapeutic, Diagnostic and Theranostic Applications, Current Opinions in Biotechnology, 24, e.1016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3833836/
Lee Vontola, C. 2012. The Nanomedicine Revolution- Part 1, Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 32, pp. 512-517. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3462600/
New research offers breakthrough in nanotechnology [online]. Worldwide Universities Network. Available at: https://wun.ac.uk/article/new-research-offers-breakthrough-nanotechnology/ (Accessed May 2023)
Villaverde, G. and Baeza, A. (2019) ‘Targeting strategies for improving the efficacy of nanomedicine in oncology’, Beilstein Journal of Nanotechnology, 10, pp. 168–181. doi:10.3762/bjnano.10.16.
This article was updated July 2023.