Nanoscience and nanotechnology refers to research and development of technologies at
the atomic, molecular, or macromolecular levels. Including research where the characteristic
dimensions are less than 1/1000 the diameter of a human hair. Nanotechnology research
provides a fundamental understanding of phenomena and materials, which are in the 1 – 100
nanometer range. For instance, DNA, our genetic material, is in the 2.5 nanometer range,
while red blood cells are approximately 2.5 micrometers. This understanding enable the
creation and use of structures, devices, and systems that have novel properties and functions
because of their extremely small size. Recent advances in the understanding of and the ability
to manipulate matter at this scale have resulted in incredible new opportunities for research
and technological change in almost every field of science and enginering.
Nanotechnology has the potential to radically change the study of basic biological
mechanisms. It may also significantly improve the prevention, detection, diagnosis and
treatment of diseases and adverse medical conditions. The key to this potential is that
nanotechnology operates at the same scale as biological processes. Most other technologies
require the study of large numbers of molecules purified away from the cells and tissues in
which they usually function, nanotechnology may offer ways to study how individual
molecules work inside of cells.
Potentail Health Applications
Biomedical opportunities for nanotechnology include include the development of improved
imaging contrast agents for the diagnosis of disease, systems for targeted drug delivery,
tissue replacement tools for studying the basic functioning of living cells and their
constituent proteins, and to sequence DNA in novel ways (using natural and fabricated
Biomaterials and Tissue engineering. Nanotechnology based materials may provide solutions
for repairing damaged tissues as well as to monitor critical clinical indicators and interfacing
for electrical measurement and stimulation. Such materials introduced into the body would
not irritate or damage the surrounding tissues, nor would their function be impaired by
longterm exposure to tissue fluids. Instead, they would actively communicate with host tissue
and would dissolve into harmless components that could be absorbed or excreted when no
longer needed. The synthesis and assembly of biologic materials and scaffolds with
homologous structure and function to the human body’s own tissues and processes are within
the realm of possibility and research pathways are becoming evident.
Responsive delivery of new generation therapeutics and diagnostics. While knowledge of
cellular pathways related to disease has recently burgeoned, the subtleties of how these
pathways function remains largely unknown. The ability to target pathway interventions to
particular cell or tissue types, and to modulate the release or activation of agents in response
to cellular signals, would allow specific interventions into disease pathways while
minimizing side effects. Similar concepts can be used to deliver in vivo imaging agents for
diagnosis, monitoring of disease and therapy, and early disease detection.
Point-of-care diagnostics. Effective detectors of specific molecules can be developed and
integrated into compact devices. Such devices can be used to provide rapid information about
diseased cells or tissues, and be used to determine treatment options. Nano devices would be
implanted in patients bodies to provide real-time records for monitoring disease progression
and therapeutic efficacy.
Imaging biological processes and the effects of disease.
Current imaging methods can provide excellent information on the structure of molecules in
vitro (e.g., X-ray diffraction) and high resolution of anatomical information in vivo (e.g.
computed tomography). However, to understand dynamic living systems, and how they are
effected by disease we need to be able to image biological processes non-destructively in
vivo in real time. Nanotechnology provides the opportunity for a new generation of imaging
tools to probe living processes at the molecular and cellular level, allowing us to study how
diseases disrupt normal molecular and cellular signals and pathways.
Implications and Ramifications of nanotechnology on Society
With advancements in nanotechnology, one could envision a world where diseases are
diagnosed and prevented or treated at early stages. Implanted nanotechnological materials
would become part of the body and therapeutic agents would be delivered in the precise
amount and at the site of action where they are needed. Achieving these goals, could result in
enormous changes in society, as many people’s quality and length of life would increase
dramatically. Launching new research projects, the societal implications of nanotechnology
research will be important to consider. Questions include: What is the long term impact of
incorporating nanoparticles that may be absorbed in to the body? As large quantities of
nanoparticulates are manufactured for incorporation into other products, what will be the
direct heath effects? What will be their envirnomental impact on biological systems?
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