Medicine has been around for thousands of years, but as always, medicine is changing. Throughout the years, humans have switched from apothecary to packing active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) into ingestible drugs, and now, nanomedicine is developing into the medicine of the future. Here, we look at how nanomedicine is being used in many medical areas.
Not all medicine will change, there will still be a need for pharmaceuticals to alleviate run of the mill illnesses; but nanomedicine offers the development of efficient drug delivery systems for active ingredients that wouldn’t otherwise be ingestible through conventional means. Nanomedicine also incorporates other areas such as medical devices and biological sensors.
As the name suggests, nanomedicine is the application of nanotechnology principles and nanomaterials to medicine. However, in principle, it also incorporates many areas of chemistry, biology and pharmacy. On the more conventional side of pharmaceuticals, i.e. drug delivery systems, there are now many types of drug delivery systems that have employed the principles of nanotechnology.
These delivery systems are very efficient and can be used to deliver drugs that are traditionally non-soluble in conventional drug delivery solvents (i.e. those that can be used within the body). Many of these are also very specific and can be tailored to deliver a drug to a specific location, and even to specific receptors- e.g. to a cancerous tissue but not to a healthy tissue. Many of these novel systems, such as colloidosomes and liposomes, can trap active drug ingredients (i.e. those that can’t normally dissolve in cyto-safe solvents) inside the nanostructure and deliver them without any effect to the body, until it is released at the desired target.
One growing area of nanomedicine, is in the application of biodegradable and biocompatible scaffolds for the growth and proliferation of stem cells. These scaffolds are gaining more attention and are commonly created from biodegradable polymers. There are two main ways that these scaffolds are being implemented. The first is by proliferating the growth of stem cells out of the body, followed by injecting the stem cells into the body. The second is by injecting the components of the scaffold into the body, where the scaffold forms around a target area and the stem cells can then proliferate and directly regrow tissues within the body. When the treatment is complete, the scaffolds degrade and are excreted by the body.
Another new area of nanomedicine has been in the development of 3-dimensional nanovaccines. Nanosized rods (in a liquid solvent) are injected under the skin of a patient, whereupon they self-assemble in to a 3-dimensional structure. The rods are composed of a series of nano-pores that release chemical messenger molecules and antigens that activate dendritic cells within the body. These cells then diffuse out of the rods and into the body, where they alert the white blood cells and invoke an immune response. The key thing with these vaccines, is that the chemicals and antigens can be changed in the nanorods, meaning that this vaccine method could be used for multiple diseases.
Whilst a few of the fundamental areas of nanomedicine are communicated here, they are just the most prevalent in a whole range of new medical treatments that use nanotechnology. Nanomedicine is not going to take over traditional pharmaceutical medicine. Instead, it is going to compliment it and fill in the gaps where conventional pharmaceuticals are ineffective.
Article by Liam Critchley