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June 16th, 2009
Advances In Medical Technology: What Does The Future Hold?
Although sophisticated medical technology is already available in health systems in developed countries, further advances are constantly being made. As a result of the addition of medical nanotechnology to existing knowledge of molecular and cellular biology, it seems likely that new, more personalised, more accurate and more rapid diagnostic techniques will be devised in the future, as well as new treatments that are also more personalised and promote regeneration of the organism.
Clearly, as areas of research such as biomaterials or tissue engineering are developed for use in regenerative medicine, the range of opportunities will increase dramatically. Josep Anton Planell, the director of the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), which was formed by the UB, the UPC and the Generalitat (Government of Catalonia) and has its headquarters in Barcelona Science Park, considers that "in the future, it will be possible to design intelligent biomaterials that, when placed where damaged tissue needs to be regenerated, will be able to stimulate the stem cells to do what we want them to do". However, more knowledge is needed to perfect the process. He states, "We are beginning to understand which biochemical, biophysical or mechanical signals activate cells to regenerate tissue. To be able to intervene, therefore, we first need to be able to quantify and assess the signals that generate the cell response and form a language."
These processes occur at the molecular level or involve very low intensity stimuli. However, nanotechnology is contributing to the emergence of the tools needed to study them. Such technology includes lasers to identify the proteins expressed in the cell membrane, nanosensors that determine whether the cell is uptaking or excreting an ion such as potassium or calcium, biosensors to detect cancer markers, and atomic force microscopes that enable material to be handled on nanometre and nanonewton scales. In short, a wide range of diagnostic systems have been designed that can more accurately detect the physiology and localization of a specific disease.
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