Will Nanotechnology Change Healthcare
- Nanoscience is a relatively new interdisciplinary field that studies materials at the nanoscale (about 1 to 100 nanometers). To give you an idea of how small that is, a sheet of newspaper is about 100,000 nanometers thick. To create a nanomaterial, you can either break down the larger version of it, or synthesize it from individual atoms. Part of the value of nano-materials lies in the fact that they can have very different properties to the original macro-materials.
- Moreover, these properties change as a function of their size and shape. That means nanotechnology in effective increases the number of materials we have to work with in all areas of life.
- Once you understand how properties change at the nano level, you can start to develop a nanostructure according to what you want to achieve with it. Take gold ‒ at a nano level it is red, and when several nanoparticles of gold cluster together, they’re blue.
- If you design something that capitalises on this colour-changing property, it could be used to develop high-efficiency systems to detect and signal the presence or absence of a very small amount of viral particles, or bacteria, which is currently very hard to do.
- But nanostructures can be used to treat as well as diagnose. At present it is possible to tackle genetic mutations by using virus particles to carry DNA to a cell to make changes to the genetic expression. This is an effective but sometimes toxic form of gene therapy. We are working to design nano-bio-systems with high efficiency in gene delivery but no toxicity. In the future, this approach could be used to treat genetic blindness that occurs as a result of a genetic mutation, as well as several genetic diseases.
- In the future, this approach could be used to treat genetic blindness that occurs as a result of a genetic mutation, as well as several genetic diseases.
- Because of the complexity of the field of nanotechnology, and the need for clinical trials to prove the efficacy and safety of these new therapies, I imagine it will be between 5 to 10 years before nanomedicines become available. But there is no doubt that nanotechnology has the potential to revolutionise healthcare in the future.
- Nanotechnology has the potential to transform current chemotherapy treatments, with nanostructures loaded with chemotherapy drugs able to selectively target cancer cells, giving the benefits of chemotherapy, without the side effects.
- Another important application of nanotechnology is in developing nano-antibiotics. These are only a few of the current applications being researched in the field of nanomedicine and the greater understanding we have of nanoparticles, the more applications we will find.