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Nanotechnology Applications for Healthcare: Treatment of Diseases

written by: Rafael • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 12/15/2008

There are many ways in which nanotechnology is being used in healthcare to treat diseases.

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    There are well-established treatments for known diseases. However, when a new illness appears we should not be surprised to see an old-fashioned treatment meet little success. Nanotechnology can help to address the issue of treatments of both old and new diseases.

    For starters nanotechnology can provide personalized medicine; that is, unique, individualized medications for each patient. Second, nanotechnology can help treat new diseases by designing new drugs, or by new ways of delivering known drugs. Also, it helps by reducing the risk of rejection or adverse reactions in implants.

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    Personalized Medicine

    Drugs to treat diseases are a risky proposition. Individuals may react different to the same drug dose or even to the drug. Traditionally medicine has taken the “average" respond approach to treat diseases. However, an effective dose for one patient or a certain drug can be toxic for another individual.

    As we know more about the human genome, we realize that there may be genes that predispose a patient to a certain disease or to a certain drug. Nanotechnology is helping in this area of illness treatment by designing and applying tools that can rapidly analyze and detect certain genes and gene sequences. In this way if a patient has a gene that predisposes him or her to a bad reaction then a new drug can be chosen for him. This is personalized medicine, medicine targeted to each patient.

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    New Methods of Drug Delivery

    One of the issues with traditional medicine is the uncertainty of knowing whether the administered drug will reach the intended organ or area of the body. Nanotechnology helps to solve this issue because specific carriers can be designed for specific drugs so the drug goes right to the target organ and not to another one. For example in cancer therapies a specific nanoparticle formulation has been designed for the drug paclitaxel. The new formulation (nanoparticle plus drug) is less toxic than the free drug injected to the patient.

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    New Drugs

    Certain drugs are difficult to make because of structural constraints. Nanotechnology can help design these drugs by using a controlled manufacturing system at the atomic and molecular level. In addition, the drug can be designed such as to eliminate the toxic part of it and leave the “effective" one. Currently, new asthma, HIV, And Cancer killing drugs are being designed using nanotechnology systems.

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    One of the issues with implants is the interaction of the new implant with biological tissues and cells of the patient. Sometimes adverse reactions occur, and although there are methods to minimize this, many implants fail because of body rejection of the new implant. Nanotechnology can offer some solutions in this area of health care. For example in bone implants were rejections can occur, titanium bone implants are being covered with a special nanocoat of nanostructured titanium dioxide which helps integrate the implant into the bone.

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    Final Thoughts

    Treating diseases, new and old ones, is of paramount importance for our society. Nanotechnology can help solve many of the problems associated with treating diseases. Here we have seen some of today’s solutions made possible by nanotechnology. We expect to see many more.