What Makes Nanotechnology So Special for Applications in Medicine and Biomedicine?

Medical applications of nanotechnologies are shaping up to be one of the most significant and game changing areas we study.  We thought it time to have a quick gallop through some of the reasons that makes nanotechnology an enabling and disruptive science with such a huge potential for applications in medicine and biomedicine.

Biological processes

Most biological processes occur at the nanoscale. Each living cell is composed of elementary components such as DNA that perform all their biological processes at nanoscale. You could argue that living organisms, including humans, are, in fact, composed of biological nanomachines built by Mother Nature from the bottom up. Even the processes occurring at structures that are not alive but behave like living organisms (viruses, for example) occur at the nanoscale.

The Laws of Quantum Physics

Matter, in general, can exhibit unusual physical, chemical, and biological properties at the nanoscale, differing deeply from the properties that usually show at the macro scale. Melting point, fluorescence, electrical conductivity, magnetic permeability, and chemical reactivity (just to mention a few examples) change on the nanoscale. The behaviour of matter at the macro scale is explained by Newtonian classical laws of physics but the behaviour of matter at nanoscale can be explained more readily by the laws of quantum physics.

The Relationship Between Volume and Available Surface Area

At the nanoscale, the relationship between volume and available surface area determines the behaviour of atoms, molecules and molecular nanostructures. When the size decreases towards the nanoscale, the available surface area per mass of a material increases dramatically. As a consequence, a greater amount of the material can be into contact with the surroundings, increasing reactivity.

Nanotechnology in Diagnostics

The tools developed to allow us to measure on the nanoscale allows scientists to study and manipulate molecules at nanoscale during the earliest stages of cancer development. This gives the potential to provide rapid, sensitive and affordable detection of cancer-related molecules, enabling scientists to detect molecular changes even in a small number of cells. Nanotechnology also has the potential to develop new methods of diagnostics, more accurate, more precautious, more affordable, portable in many cases, and personalized.

Nanotechnology in Drug Delivery

It is now possible to design new molecular nanostructures on a computer. It is also possible predict and simulate by computer (with high precision) how molecular nanostructures are going to look, behave, interact and react. This combination of  computing power and nanoscience is enabling researchers to design molecular nanostructures and customize them, utilizing their unique behaviours, for a variety of purposes.

As an example, the concept of the nano carrier plays a central role in this new approach giving us the potential to generate entirely novel and highly effective drugs of the future.

Nanotechnology in Regenerative Medicine and Tissue Engineering

Regeneration of wounded or damaged tissues, establishing de novo synapses between wounded or damaged neurons, skin protection and repair are just a few examples of objects of study and intense work by nanoscientists.

For example, scaffolding can already make use of highly functionalised new nanomaterials. Scaffolds made with nano-engineered polymers and self-fitting are improving the repair of wounded or damaged tissue or cells.

Nanotechnology can also be applied to wound dressings, for detection, control and treatment of infections of conjunctive, skeletal, vascular, muscular and nerve tissues, for example.

Conclusion

Nanotechnology is beginning to revolutionize a wide range of medical and biomedical tools, procedures, approaches and processes: more precise, directed and targeted, effective, personalized, portable, less expensive, safer, easier to administer and causing less adverse side-effects.

 

Comments 5

  1. Francisco Teixeira

    Great post about nanotechnology, an area that lot of people find mysterious or foggy, including me – someone from the Psychology field.

    It’s incredible how we only can make inferences about the great picture (cosmos, universe, galaxies…), but are very close to find, in loco, what happens with the small picture (cells, molecules…). It’s not a question of “If I was there” but simply “I am there!” And such a possibility is a massive jackpot for investigation and overall science.

    I wonder if one day we can use nanotechnology to cure some diseases like Alzheimer, Dementia, Parkinson or even amnesia. I think about these areas because synapses reconstruction could make a difference on those problems. Maybe nanotechnology and neuroscience could work together more times!

    Congratulations for this wonderful article.
    Francisco Teixeira

  2. Adrienne Sips

    The lines “It is also possible predict and simulate by computer (with high precision) how molecular nanostructures are going to look, behave, interact and react” fascinate me very much. Where can I find more information about such precise predictions. Who are the specialists in this area?

    Best regards,
    Adriënne Sips

    1. LUIS BASTOS

      Dear Adriënne

      Thank you so much for your high interest, curiosity and highly contributively, positive, and kind comment.

      This area is related with computational nanotechnology. As far as I know, research on computational nanotechnology started on 1996 at NASA.

      In what concerns to computational nanotechnology applied to medicine, biomedicine, nanomedicine, nanotechnology in drug delivery and other related fields, the frontiers between this nanotechnology field and computational biology, bioinformatics, cheminformatics, molecular informatics and protein docking are very tiny.

      The approaches and methodologies have much in common. Computational nanotechnology applied to medicine, biomedicine, nanomedicine, nanotechnology in drug delivery and other related fields must, however, stand on some conceptual requirements. Those main conceptual requirements are the different properties of matter at nanoscale and the relationship between volume and available surface area which determines the behaviour of atoms, molecules and molecular nanostructures. Those two conceptual requirements will stand on an intensive work on nanocharacterization of an immense quantity of molecules and nanostructures and the progressive construction of databases of their properties. Those databases will feed information to the employed software.

      Concerning to find people in this field, my advice goes to LinkedIn.

      LinkedIn groups:
      NCI caBIG ICR Nanotechnology Working Group
      Nanotechnology in Drug Delivery

      If you perform a search in the search box (for people) using the following query “computational nanotechnology drug”, you will have a search results page with almost 100 persons.

      Some links on the World Wide Web:
      http://septlab.engin.umich.edu/
      http://www.aibn.uq.edu.au/smith-phd-projects
      http://www.aspbs.com/tcn.html
      http://www.ddtc.helsinki.fi/research/index.html
      http://www.rpi.edu/research/ccni/
      http://www-03.ibm.com/press/au/en/pressrelease/29383.wss

      I hope that helps.

      Best Regards,
      Luís Bastos

  3. LUIS BASTOS

    Dear Francisco,

    May thanks for the highly contributively, positive, enthusiastic and kind comment.

    Concerning to the cure some diseases like Alzheimer, Dementia, Parkinson, amnesia and others, I strongly believe that those days will arrive, in some cases sooner, in other cases latter. Much intensive research is being implemented by nanoscientists in collaboration with bioscientists and scientists from medical and biomedical fields, as well as from other scientific and technological fields. The key issue is to understand the causes behind those conditions. Once those causes are fully identified, measures will be implemented, with the help of nanotechnology, for precocious diagnostic, prevention, therapy and regeneration (all this into a personalized medicine context).

    Kind Regards,
    Luís Bastos

  4. LUIS BASTOS

    At this point I want to express my gratitude to Tim Harper, founder of Cientifica, by the kind invitation, wise revision of my text and approval for publishing. Without his wisdom, professional experience and expertise, my text probably wouldn’t have the kind comments posted latter.

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