The Unlimited Potential of Nanomedicine
All of us have heard this before — everything is made up of atoms. The food we eat, the objects we touch, the clothes we wear, our bodies, etc, are all made up of these small particles of matter that has the simple job of taking up space. Normally, we interact with atoms at a larger scale, but when you put things in perspective, one atom usually has the diameter of between 0.1–0.5 nanometers. One sheet of newspaper is about 100,000 nanometers thick, so you can see just how small the atom actually is when comparing it to larger objects this way.
What would happen if we had the ability to control all of these billions of tiny particles? This is basically the essence of nanotechnology. For a better definition, it’s the control and manipulation of particles at the nanoscale to be used in other fields of science, such as medicine, chemistry, physics, etc. At this scale, particles also start exhibiting their quantum properties, meaning that some unusual phenomena tend to take place at this size.
But from this one field, we can start to see so many interesting applications that have the potential to disrupt our lives on mass in the future. Things like nanophotonics, the study of nano particles in combination with photons (light particles) presents us with photodynamic therapy, or another way to attack tumor cells. Or nanosensors, sensors that can pick up on different kinds of nano particles in water, air, soil, etc, and can help with reassuring our food/water quality. And my personal favorite, nanomedicine, which I am going to be talking about today.
What is Nanomedicine?
Nanomedicine is exactly what it sounds like: using nanotechnology for medical purposes, like diagnosis and treating disease. I am so excited about this field because to me, it has unlimited potential. All throughout history, we’ve mostly been tackling disease and infections with macro scaled objects since the causes, such as viruses, were too small to reach directly. With nanomedicine, we can start delivering medication directly into those cells in so many ways. For example, particles are now able to carry drugs around a tumor sight, straight into cells, and across very tight blood brain barriers.
This alone creates endless possibilities in treating even the most complex diseases.
Nanomedicine has the potential to drastically change the way we treat patients in the upcoming years, which is why it is so exciting. Most of the time, nanomedicine has the option of being very personalized. This means your medication would be more tailored to you rather than an entire population. As you can probably tell, this can do wonders to your prognosis since it can attack the individual characteristics of your specific disease or infection.
Even though most applications of nanomedicine are still in their early stages, when developed and ready to administer, most of the time they can treat diseases much easier than we can with our medication at larger scales.
Nanomedicine in the Diagnosis of Disease
Nanoparticles provide a great way of diagnosis simply because they can detect toxins or tumor cells well from direct contact. We are know seeing that we can detect some types of brain cancer by using magnetic nanoparticles. Cancer cells in the brain shed tiny particles called microvesicles that often travel around the blood stream, initially thought to be “cell dust”. By using nanoparticles with magnetic properties, microvesicles can be easily detected since they are normally shed in mass amounts in brain tumor cells.
This process works by first (a) the tumor cells releasing microvesicles, then labelling them with magnetic nanoparticles for detection (b and c).
Studies of using carbon nanotubes coated with gold particles are also being done today for the detection of oral cancers. This works in relatively the same way as the previous method, but instead of sensing for microvesicles, these tubes detect the distinct four proteins that are characteristic of oral cancer and remove them from the blood stream.
By coating gold particles with antibodies, we can start detecting completely different illnesses, such as the flu virus. In addition, gold nanoparticles are really efficient at scattering light, while typical viruses are not. By combining this property and the use of antibodies, gold nanoparticles have the potential to rapidly diagnose Influenza which can be crucial at times.
Nanomedicine in the Treatment of Disease
This field makes it much easier to take already existing medication. This is because our metabolism for certain drugs can be much higher than that for other people, meaning drugs don’t stay in our system as long as they should. Using nanoparticles, we can tailor them in a way in which they can release medication at a slower rate, which in turn keeps the drug in your system for as long as it should be. This also eliminates the frequency at which we take medication, making the entire process much more cost efficient and convenient.
Using silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) also has tremendous benefit in the world of nanomedicine. Silver is the most advantageous precious metal to use due to the fact that it has antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties! Because of this, they are often used as very effective drug carriers throughout the body. Today, AgNPs are already incorporated into wound dressings and disinfectants. These particles also play a big role in preventing infectious diseases from spreading around hospitals.
Scientists have even came up with ways to create much more effective blood filtration methods with nanoparticles with the idea being to eliminate conventional dialysis. Nanofiber mesh containing zeolites (ionized minerals) can absorb toxins from the blood stream! The mesh is planned to be incorporated into a small device that can be worn on the patient’s arm, which gets rid of the need for expensive dialysis treatment in kidney failure patients, for example.
Nanomedicine in Tissue Engineering
Nanomedicine also gives us better ways to approach tissue engineering. Nanotechnology can be used to create personalized nanofibers, which can form blood-vessel like structures and mimic the structure of existing tissue. In another study, researchers at John Hopkins University managed to find a way to use nanofibers to develop stem cells into cartilage. This is done by supplying a mix of protein fibers and gel that mimic the cartilage cell environment, which signal surrounding stem cells to differentiate accordingly.
Cartilage in your elbows and knees wear down with age, which is known to cause excruciating joint pain in the elderly. With this application, this thin lining of cartilage can be restored and can allow for a much better option than constant pain relieving medication or surgical replacements.
These are just a few examples of the use of nanomedicine. It may seem like that was a lot of information covered, but it barely scratched the surface. Nanomedicine is a broad field that can’t be summarized in one article due to all of the amazing advancements happening on a day to day basis. I am truly excited about where this field will manage to take us in terms of disrupting current medical processes.
Just in this article alone, we’ve covered ways to sense all kinds of diseases, such as brain cancer and influenza with magnetic nanoparticles. Also, how to potentially restore lines of cartilage and enhance the effectiveness of the drug administration process. Now you get more of what “unlimited potential” means for the nanomedicine world and exactly how deep our exploration can go.
Links to more resources:
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