Nanotechnologies and Medicine
We live in a time where the populations of both developed and developing nations are changing. Life-style diseases and an ageing population are becoming a norm. Against this backdrop, advances in nanotechnologies are contributing to preventing the spread of disease, allowing diagnosis at an earlier stage, and providing treatment on a number of levels.
Using nanotechnologies to detect disease
The earlier you can detect an illness such as cancer the higher the chance of beating the disease. Nanotechnologies are enabling a new set of diagnostic devices which can detect very small amounts of specific proteins associated with some diseases. Early detection means higher chances of successfully treating and overcoming the disease.
Using carbon nanotubes to grow new bone
Material scientists are studying how to create an “artificial bone” to regenerate bone within the body and overcome some of the challenges and limitations of conventional bone implants. One idea is to use some molecules naturally found in bone and get them to self-organize spontaneously into a higher order structure. Nanofibres are formed which make a gel that could be used as a sort of glue in bone fractures or to create a scaffold for other tissues to regenerate onto.
Nanoparticle drugs for Cancer Treatment.
What if you could design a treatment that would only target the cancer cells and leave the healthy cells untouched? Nanotechnology may one day make this possible. Researchers at Rice University have demonstrated the use of 120nm diameter nanoparticles coated with a gold shell to target cancer tumours. The nanoshells can be engineered to bind to cancerous cells by binding antibodies or peptides to the nanoshell surface. Once the nanoshells bind to the cancerous cells, the cells can be selectively removed, using an external infrared laser.
Nanotechnology and pain relief
Imagine popping a pain pill that is not only smaller, but up to nine times more effective. Using nanocrystals of drugs can make them more absorbable and better suited to reach their destination inside the body.
Several types of nanomaterials, like lipids or polymeric nano-capsules, are already used in drugs that are on the market. Like any drug those containing nanomaterials need to undergo a long and strict regulatory process before they can be marketed, which includes several clinical trials. However some argue that the use of nanomaterials in medicine is fairly new and there are some uncertainties on how nanomaterials degrade in the body, and whether they can trigger unwanted long term side effects. These critics argue that nanomaterials should be regulated with a dedicated regulatory framework when used for medical treatment.
- nanopinion is an EC-funded project bringing together 17 partners from 11 countries with the aim of monitoring public opinion on what we hope from innovation with nanotechnologies. The project is aimed citizens with a special focus on hard-to-reach target groups, which are people who do not normally encounter and give their opinion nanotechnologies at first hand.
- Dialogue is facilitated online and in outreach events in 30 countries presenting different participatory formats.
- To promote an informed debate, we also run a strong press & social media campaign and offer a repository with more than 150 resources.