Medical science in the 21st century is increasingly more sophisticated and growing exponentially. One of the more fascinating areas of medical research involves the evolution of nanoparticles.
Nanoparticles are (in simple terms) small objects that behave as a unit to have common properties and to perform specific jobs. They are tiny complex particles on the scale of one billionth of a meter—mere fractions of the width of a human hair.
These particles are molecular-sized entities that can be made from almost any material: metals, plastics and a multitude of hybrid materials. The most common at present is silicon.
Because they are approximately the size of a biological molecule, they offer great potential for use in the human body to cure diseases because of their ability to transport substances on their surfaces or within their structures (think sponge-like configurations) into the body.
When used for medical purposes, they enter the body most often via intravenous injections. But advanced nanos that can be administered via an oral capsule and nanoemulsions that could be used for aerosolized nasal delivery are being developed.
In researching nanoparticle technology, I found that the subject is far-reaching and discussions of nanotechnology could be the subject of several blogs. For now, though, I’ll touch on only a few specific uses that show what could be common practice in the not-to-distant future.
Recent articles show that there is significant potential for using nanotechnology to target cancer cells for cures through specific delivery mechanisms. The ability to control the movement of nanoparticles in the body remotely, and with precision, has very important medical applications. Controlling where nanoparticles go in the body allows these miniature medical soldiers to have greater targeting ability to deliver a wide variety of drugs to specific areas of the body for directed therapies.
Additionally, new electromagnetic technology allows for the nanoparticles THEMSELVES to be used as therapeutic devices WITHOUT the need for additional drug components on or within the nanoparticle, thereby eliminating the potential for serious drug side effects (as seen with some aggressive chemotherapies).
The idea is actually a simple one—use magnetized nanoparticles that rotate and destroy tumor cells without harming the surrounding tissue and without the harmful side effects of chemotherapy.
Another very interesting application is the use of nanoparticles to seek out and destroy viruses. Scientists are working on nanoparticle technology that impregnates the nanos with enzymes that attach to viruses in our blood and these enzymes prevent reproduction of the virus molecule, essentially curing the viral infection.
Presently, researchers at MIT are working on a method of attaching vaccines to nanoparticles so that the nanos protect the vaccines from the body’s natural defense mechanisms, allowing the vaccines the time required to trigger a stronger immune response.
In time, nanotechnology could advance to a point that medical science will use nanos instead of genetically engineered viruses and bacteria to cure diseases. There is even a nano robot that is one nanometer in size (one billionth of a meter) and is the smallest electric motor in the world.
But, as with all technological advances, the amazing cures and enhanced qualities of life that are on the forefront of nanoparticle development could have an alternate dark side. As we’re seen with powerful herbal and pharmaceutical remedies, misuse can result in lethal outcomes. As with all good things, there can also be alternate sinister applications that spring forth from creative minds.
I can already imagine what poisons and toxins could be delivered into the body by nanos, and what other lethal consequences could be achieved by ill-used nanoparticles entering the body not only by injection but also by the newer oral and nasal applications being developed.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!
In the short term and considering the cost and effort to produce these nano-sized medical devices, I suspect the main danger to the patient will be in mistakes made in manufacturing or control of these devices. We are probably years away from these being in common medical practice.
On the other hand, 3-D printer technology is making great strides, with printers from companies like Nanoscribe capable of printing at the micron level. While a micron, one millionth of an meter, is a thousand times bigger than a nanometer, at the rate printer technology is changing I suspect that in a few years someone with a modest budget could buy a 3-D printer that could build nanotechnology devices. Not sure how your fictional detective would figure that one out.
You always make us think.
Hmmm, interesting information, Walt. Printers that can create 3-D nanos in the hands of villains? A fictional detective’s nightmare – And a thriller writer’s dream!