One of the most awaited technologies on the verge of moving out of laboratories and set to enter commercial production is nanotechnology. There is so much buzz about nanotechnology that industries, from cosmetics, healthcare, and automobile to aerospace, expect big disruptions due to nanotech. In the race for nano supremacy, I see healthcare as the most exciting space with a variety of use cases that can have a profound impact on humankind. In fact, nanotechnology is the most radical and wide-reaching emerging technology, and healthcare is its most urgent application.
Before we delve deeper into the application of nanotechnology in healthcare, let us take a closer look at nanotechnology, its use cases, and its market share. This will give us a clearer perspective and some critical insights into this emerging technology.
Nanotech is a multi-disciplinary field of research that deals with the restructuring and manipulation of matters that are of the size of 1 to 100 nanometers, i.e., at the molecular level. The word ‘nano’ means ‘dwarf’ in Greek and nanotechnology is the science of the extremely small!
Let’s understand what a nanometer is all about. To give you a better perspective, A virus, on average, is 40- 100 nanometers in size! Isn’t it amazing that we are now dealing with things 1/100th the size of a virus? And these subatomic particles are making big waves today! We are building nanorobots, nanotubes, nanodots, nanowires, and nanosheets that could be used for innovative and pathbreaking medical applications from diagnosis of disease and drug delivery to the disease-affected areas of the human body with great precision, something that hasn’t been actively pursued until now.
The space where nanotechnology meets healthcare is called nanomedicine. Industry experts estimate the nanomedicine market share to grow up to $260Bn in 2025 from $141Bn in 2020.
While nanostructures occur naturally in soil, dust, oceans, plants, and animals, scientists today are building nano materials with newly manipulated attributes or engineered properties. This holds massive potential and opens new doors in drug delivery systems, body scans, gene therapy, identifying cancer cells, and health monitoring.
All thanks to the great scientist Richard Feynman who seeded the concept of nanotechnology in 1959. He was also regarded as one of the best safecrackers in the world! You can read a book written by him, “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”.
The lexicon of Nanotechnology
Before outlining the possible use cases of nanotechnology in healthcare, it would serve us well to be acquainted with the basic verbiage of nanotechnology –
Nanometer (mμ): A nanometer is a unit of measurement which is 1 billionth of a meter. The smallest things around us are measured in nanometers. To illustrate, a DNA molecule is about 2.5 mμ wide compared to a red blood cell which is about 7 mμ.
Nanoparticles (Nanodots/Quantum dots): These are small particles that range anywhere between 1 to 100 Nm. We all know well that the smaller the material, the surface area to volume ratio increases. This ensures that nanoparticles have distinct optical, physical, and chemical properties and produce quantum effects.
Nanotubes: These are tubes with atom-thick walls and a tube-like structure mainly made of carbon materials. Nanotubes are a few nanometers wide, and their length can be up to a few millimeters. What makes them more attractive in the healthcare arena is that they are non-toxic and, therefore, safe to use.
Nanorobotics: Nanorobotics is the process of building robots at the nanoscale and such robots are called nanobots. They are typically nanoelectromechanical systems that can be programmed to carry out specific tasks.
The most promising use-cases of Nanotechnology in Healthcare
Industry experts believe that nanotechnology will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of healthcare. Let’s take a look at some of its most compelling use cases that are already show promising results –
Targeted Drug Delivery System: In today’s conventional drug delivery mechanism, did you know that when you take a medicine for a headache, it possibly goes through your entire body, including the head, to give you relief? This also means that the drug delivery mechanism is inefficient, slow, requires more drug consumption than needed, and may impact non-targeted organs. Nanotechnology can carry drugs to specific cells and release them when it reaches the targeted organ or area. This can be highly instrumental, for instance, in curtailing the side effects of chemotherapy.
Diagnosis: A biomarker, in general, is a measurement, substance, or chemical in the body which indicates a disease or a condition. It is seen that nanotechnology can bridge the gap between measurable biomarkers representing the physiology of a biological process and clinical outcomes. Nanoparticles injected into humans can detect these biomarkers with extremely high efficacy as compared to scanning the human body from the outside, thereby reducing the chances of drug failure/rejection.
Medical Imaging: Nanoparticles/Quantum dots are so small that their surface area to volume ratio is relatively high, thus producing excellent contrast and fluoresce. In generic terms, a nanoparticle is more like a glow-in-the-dark thing, and its ability to reflect light will help us in biological labeling at the molecular level. Nanoparticles in medical devices and drug therapy can give us much better diagnosis results and treatments with a higher success rate.
Wound Treatment: One of the major pain points of wound healing is contamination with microorganisms. Silver nanoparticles have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that provide better wound healing efficacy with less bacterial resistance. They can be used as scaffolds for skin regeneration. Nanofibrous materials can also be used as delivery systems for drugs, proteins, growth factors, and other molecules. This will help us in targeted drug delivery with minimal and effective drug usage.
Needless to say, there exists great scope for advancements in nanotechnology that hold the potential to revolutionize and reinvent healthcare systems despite existing hurdles. Nanomedicine, nano pharmacology, nanoimaging, and targeted drug delivery systems will make the diagnosis and prevention of diseases, and care delivery more efficient and patient-centric.
By Srinivas Iyengar, VP & Head of Healthcare & Life Sciences, Happiest Minds Technologies.
(DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are solely of the author and ETHealthworld does not necessarily subscribe to it. ETHealthworld.com shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person / organisation directly or indirectly)