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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > The Future of Nanotechnology > 4 Ways Nanotechnology Will Revolutionize Medicine

Amanda Richter

Abstract:
Medication targeting cancer like a smart missile, receptors that tell a doctor when your blood pressure is too high, a tumor that changes colors to assist surgeons what sounds like science fiction is very much fact thanks to nanotechnology in medicine. Perhaps the biggest breakthrough in the industry since the introduction of antiseptics, nanotechnology is helping revolutionize how we treat disease by making health care faster, smarter and more affordable.

July 17th, 2013

4 Ways Nanotechnology Will Revolutionize Medicine

Medication targeting cancer like a smart missile, receptors that tell a doctor when your blood pressure is too high, a tumor that changes colors to assist surgeons what sounds like science fiction is very much fact thanks to nanotechnology in medicine. Perhaps the biggest breakthrough in the industry since the introduction of antiseptics, nanotechnology is helping revolutionize how we treat disease by making health care faster, smarter and more affordable.

Nanomedicine
​For some medicine, like chemotherapy, treatment is like trying to hit a small target with a fire hose. The likelihood to hit the bullseye is high, but in the process the rest of the board will take damage. The same is true when seeking out cancer cells. Chemotherapy is effective but does a number on the human body, causing a plethora of unwanted side effects.

Nanomedicine aims to turn the fire hose into a precise dart. The National Nanotechnology Initiative reports that drugs that aim toxins directly at tumors without affecting other areas of the body are already in clinical trials. The same technology can also be used for early Alzheimer's detection.

This new wave of technology isn't just for treatment. Researches at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute are studying a method where nanoparticles provide specific imaging for doctors during surgeries. Combined with a specific dye, the particles react to tumors to help visualize the cancerous tissue and arm doctors with better information. The new innovation will help make surgeries faster and more efficient.

​3D Printing
Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing uses a variety of materials to build 3D objects from scratch using CAD files to design almost anything the mind can imagine. Right now the technology is used to experimentally build anything from car engines to firearms, but 3D printing could also serve as a valuable tool in the medical industry.

Manufacturing, waste and transportation all increase the final price on medical bills, making health care costs out of reach for many consumers. Take prosthetic limbs, for example. Building artificial limbs for amputee victims is a long and expensive process. With advanced 3D printing, a prosthetic limb could go from design to finished product for a fraction of the price (and all under one roof), cutting down on waste and time in the process. Chris Barnatt, professor of computing and future studies at Nottingham University, said that 3D printing is no longer just a prototype but ready for real-world application.

Nanowires
​The annual checkup with a general practitioner is a hassle and often skipped, leaving many Americans at risk to conditions like high blood pressure. The Georgia Institute of Technology wants to take the checkup out of the equation. Popular Mechanics reports they've designed an implantable nanowire that records vital stats and can alert the patient or doctor if fluctuations in blood pressure become alarming. The alerts could be especially useful when patients are traveling abroad. Providers like HCCMIS could partner with friendly nations to forward alerts to doctors nearby. Currently, the most convenient method to measure blood pressure is a strap around the arm, but with the nanowire, a small watch could record the data and even send life-saving alerts to a doctor in case of cardiac arrest.

Photo of nickel and gold nanowire array (abstracted) by Flickr user lacomj


Medical Supplies
Infection control is another area of health care nanotechnology could serve well. Scrubs and lab coats from Vestagen Technical Textiles are made with nanosized silicon particles that repel microscopic materials. The silicone creates a tension on the surface of the clothes that help reject up to 99.9 percent of dangerous bacteria found in blood and vomit, which could be hazardous to doctors and nurses. The innovative clothing materials don't just keep medical professionals safe, but help prevent the spread of disease to other patients, too.

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