Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in Biology and Medicine

Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in Biology and Medicine

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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