Nanomedicine is the medical application of Nanotechnology in the use of a material at the Nanometer-scale. As a result, the size of Nanomaterials (the materials used in Nanomedicine) are similar to that of most biological molecules and structures, making it easy for them to interact and perform certain functions. In addition, Nanomaterials can be useful for both in vivo and in vitro biomedical research and applications. Thus far, the integration of Nanomaterials with biology has led to the development of diagnostic devices, contrast agents, analytical tools, physical therapy applications, and drug delivery vehicles.
Many current applications of Nanomedicine are providing improvements to drug delivery for therapy. Specific nanoparticles are being used alongside drugs in order to reduce their side effects, increase absorbability, and maximize the availability of a drug for long periods of time and at specific places around the body. Side effects can be reduced by depositing the active agent in the morbid region only. Availability of a drug can be increased by molecular targeting by specific Nanoengineered devices. Increasing absorbability is important as it is applicable for drugs that are absorbed too quickly and removed from the body as waste before treatment can be effective. Lastly, Nanotheurapeutic devices can also reduce the surrounding tissue damage by a drug. This is important specifically for drugs that treat cancer as they are known to do so. In addition, they can also lead to a reduction in drug volume, avoiding the problem of accumulation in healthy tissue. An example of an application of this function can be described by solid tumors. A common characteristic of solid tumors is leaky blood vessels. Nanomedicines, due to their size, accumulate in tissue through leakage in the blood vessels. They are then retained within the tissue because of effective lymphatic drainage being absent in solid tumors and can be designed to provide site-specific drug delivery to fight off cancerous cells. This mechanism is known as Enhanced Permeability and Retention(EPR).
(Image depicting chemotherapy drug delivery with nanoparticles)
Nanotechnology has also been applied to the diagnostics of medicine because of the distinct optical, magnetic and structural properties of these materials which make them suitable for diagnostic imaging and tumor detection. Nanoparticles have greater adaptable optical and magnetic features than larger conventional materials used because of the modified quantum mechanics at the nanoscale. For example, Nanoparticles of Cadmium Selenide (quantum dots) glow when exposed to ultraviolet light. When injected, they seep into cancer tumors. The surgeon can see the glowing tumor, and use it as a guide for more accurate tumor removal. In addition, various colors can be produced by changing the size of the nanoparticle and this is particularly useful for the color coding and labeling of materials used during diagnostic tests. Furthermore, Nanotechnology is being used to enhance current medical imaging methods such as nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy for MRI scans to detect cancerous cells and tumors. Quantum dots (nanoparticles with quantum confinement properties, such as size-tunable light emission), when used with MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), can produce exceptional images of tumor sites.
Theranostics relate to the combination of diagnostics with therapy. An example is how some nanoparticles can track movement and help determine how well drugs are being distributed or how substances are metabolized through imaging services on the outside. Advantages of methods like these are that they provide the capacity for personalized medicine. For cancer patients, this involves the outcomes of imaging agents with chemotherapeutic drugs. The imaging agents are most often utilized for predicting patient response and for monitoring treatment efficacy over time. Imaging agents can also be used for predicting side effects in certain patients by providing data on potential non-target accumulation sites in healthy tissue.
There are so many more fields that Nanomedicine can be used in that weren’t talked about in this article such as blood purification, tissue engineering, and even engineering of medical devices. This goes to show that Nanomedicine is already a very popular aspect of medicine in society. Nanomedicine sales reached $16 billion in 2015, with a minimum of $3.8 billion in Nanotechnology R&D being invested every year. Global funding for emerging Nanotechnology increased by 45% per year in recent years, with product sales exceeding $1 trillion in 2013. However, there are current problems that are limiting the use of these technologies involving toxicity and environmental impact of these materials but scientists are constantly researching in order to find solutions and these problems will not be limiting the use of Nanomedicine anytime soon.
Author at STEMTalksNC