Nanomedicine

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Nanomedicine, an offshoot of nanotechnology, refers to highly specific medical intervention at the molecular scale for curing disease or repairing damaged tissues, such as bone, muscle, or nerve. It is a still-developing science dedicated to constructing microscopic biomechanical devices like nanomachines and nanorobots. These devices are so small they are measured in nanometers, or one millionths of a meter.

Contents

Why should I be aware of this?

  • Nanomedicine is a “systems” approach to medicine views the body as a complex network of molecular interactions that can be measured and modeled, revealing causes of disease such as cancer. [1]
  • Extremely miniaturized tools can inexpensively measure and manipulate molecules for systems medicine.
  • Nanoscale therapies deliver precisely targeted treatments to tumors while avoiding healthy tissues.

All about Nanomedicine

Extreme miniaturization of technologies for making diagnostic measurements from minuscule amounts of blood or even single cells taken from diseased tissues has been one of the major evolutions in medicine.

This opens up new avenues for studying and treating disease as it allows the human body to be viewed as a dynamic system of molecular interactions. When such measurements are integrated into computational models, early indicators of a problem can be revealed. When these insights are combined with new nanotechnology-based therapies, the treatment can be targeted specifically to the problems alone, thereby avoiding serious side effects.

Information that can be programmed

Living organisms are full of information that can be measured, quantified and programmed into a modelling system. Such biological information starts with an organism's genetic code. Every cell in the human body carries a full copy of the human genome, which is made up of three billion pairs of DNA bases, the letters of the genetic alphabet. Those "letters" encode some 25,000 genes, representing instructions for operating cells and tissues. Inside each cell, genes are transcribed into a more portable form, discrete snippets of messenger RNA that carry those instructions to cellular equipment that reads the RNA and churns out chains of amino acids according to the encoded instructions. Those amino acid chains, in turn, fold themselves into proteins, the three-dimensional molecular machines that execute most of the functions of life.

Networks of proteins interacting with one another

Within a biological system of a person, all these "data" are transmitted, processed, integrated and ultimately executed through networks of proteins interacting with one another and with other biologically relevant molecules inside cells. When viewed in this perspective disease can be seen as a consequence of something upsetting the network's normal programmed patterns of information.

The initial cause could be a flaw within the system, such as a random change in DNA that alters an encoded instruction, or even some environmental influence from outside, such as the ultraviolet radiation in sunlight that can trigger DNA damage that eventually leads to melanoma.

As an initial disruption produces ripple effects and feedback, the information patterns continue to change, and these dynamically altered patterns explain the nature of the disease mechanistically.

Cancer treatment

Cancer has, for several decades, been the most intensively studied of all diseases. The more advanced the cancer according to such diagnostic "stages," the more bleak the prognosis for the patient. But there are several contradictions in treatment approaches. Patients diagnosed with identical cancers and given similar radiation and chemotherapies often respond very differently. While one group recovers fully, the other succumbs rapidly.

By use of molecular analysis in nanomedicine, many cancers that were at one time considered to be a single disease are now identified as separate diseases.

About 80 percent of human prostate tumors grow so slowly that they will not ever harm their hosts, for instance. The remaining 20 percent will grow more quickly, invading surrounding tissues and even spreading (metastasizing) to distant organs, eventually killing the patient.

Our research group is now attempting to identify the disease-perturbed networks in prostate cells that characterize both these major cancer types so that a doctor could identify from the outset which kind a patient has. That information could spare 80 percent of patients unnecessary surgery, irradiation or chemotherapy, along with the pain, incontinence and impotence that accompany those treatments. [1]

Enhanced precision and faster measurements

With extreme miniaturization nanomedicine can offer enhanced precision and significantly faster measurements than can be achieved with current technologies. Currently, a test to measure levels of a single diagnostic cancer protein, such as prostate-specific antigen, in a patient's blood costs a hospital about $50 to perform. A blood test today could take a few hours to a few days, in part because of the many steps needed to separate blood components cells, plasma, proteins and other molecules before they can each be measured using tests of varying accuracy.

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  • Diagnostic nanomachines could be employed to monitor the internal chemistry of the body. Mobile nanorobots, equipped with wireless transmitters, could circulate in the blood and lymph systems, and send out warnings when chemical imbalances occur or worsen. [2]
  • Similar fixed nanomachines could be planted in the nervous system to monitor pulse, brain-wave activity, and other functions.[2]
  • Implanted nanotechnology devices could dispense drugs or hormones as needed in people with chronic imbalance or deficiency states.[2]
  • In heart defibrillators and pacemakers, nanomachines could affect the behavior of individual cells. [2]
  • Artificial antibodies, artificial white and red blood cells, and antiviral nanorobots might be devised.[2]

90 degrees

Nanorobots

The most advanced nanomedicine involves the use of nanorobots as miniature surgeons. Such machines might repair damaged cells, or get inside cells and replace or assist damaged intracellular structures. At the extreme, nanomachines might replicate themselves, or correct genetic deficiencies by altering or replacing DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) molecules. [2]

References:

  • Nanomedicine--Revolutionizing the Fight against Cancer
  • What is nanomedicine?
  • Nanomedicine

Source

  1. 1.0 1.1 Scientific American
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Whatis.com