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Nanotechnology in healthcare

Nanotechnology application will help in a more precise diagnosis of diseases and improve the efficacy of medical therapies for the benefit of society.
Nanomedicine is simply the application of nanotechnology in medical field to achieve breakthroughs in healthcare by suitably exploiting the novel physical, chemical and biological properties of materials at the nanometer scale.
Early identification of diseases by improved medical imaging technologies using nanotechnology enables precise and effective intervention which results in lower costs for the healthcare system. Nano-enabled implants and regeneration of lost tissues and organs with regenerative medicines and vaccines are also potential possibilities. Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s which pose a tremendous challenge to modern medicine are being addressed. Nanotechnology can target drugs precisely to diseased organs and cells, reduce the side effects and improve the efficacy of the drugs.
For example, chemotherapy can now be applied directly to cancerous tumours, delivering treatment to the affected area only, rather than having toxic chemicals wash through the body, destroying the immune system, as well as the cancer.
Thus nanotechnology allows doctors to identify disease earlier and begin treatment sooner. Additionally, medical implants could take advantage of the improved knowledge on how materials like plastics and metals interact with the human body, allowing doctors to replace worn out body parts with artificial ones.
A report says that during 2007 to 2010, EU Framework Programme has invested about 265 Million Euros in nanomedicine related research such as targeted nanopharmaceuticals, nanodiagnostics, biomaterials for implants and regenerative medicine and the development of intelligent prostheses. Cumulative investments made by US in nanotechnology-related environmental, health, and safety research since 2005 to till date total nearly $900 million specifically towards nanotechnology-based biomedical research at the intersection of life and physical sciences.
Several decades of intensive research has resulted in numerous approved nanomedicines and related products in the market.
Clean drinking water
Due to the excessive use of fertilizers the groundwater is contaminated with nitrates. Tackling the problem at source is one thing, but it will still be necessary to treat the mains water supply. This problem can be tackled through biological conversion using bacteria to convert the nitrate to nitrogen gas, but this is a slow process.
One way of removing harmful nitrate from drinking water is to catalyse its conversion to nitrogen. This process suffers from the drawback that it often produces ammonia. By using palladium nanoparticles as a catalyst, and by carefully controlling their size, this drawback can be partially eliminated.
MESA+ is the largest research institute in the Netherlands doing research in the field of nanotechnology. Researchers at this institute have discovered that palladium can be used to catalyse the conversion of nitrate to nitrogen at a high speed. Researchers used colloidal palladium nanoparticles fixed to a surface and stabilized using polyvinyl alcohol to avoid particles clumping together. The palladium nanoparticles thus produced can catalyse the conversion to nitrogen, while producing very little ammonia. This can even lead to further development of compact devices for catalytic water treatment at home.
Early detection of heart attacks
NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering professors have been collaborating with researchers from Peking University on a novel colloidal gold test strip that is demonstrating great potential for the early detection of certain heart attacks.
cTn-I is a specific marker for myocardial infarction. The cTn-I level in patients experiencing myocardial infarction is several thousand times higher than in healthy people. The early detection of cTn-I is therefore a key factor of heart attack diagnosis and therapy.
Researchers are developing the strip to test for cardiac troponin I (cTn-I). The new strip uses micro plasma-generated gold nanoparticles. Compared to AuNPs produced by traditional chemical methods, the surfaces of these nanoparticles attract more antibodies, which results in significantly higher detection sensitivity. The new cTn-I test is based on the specific immune-chemical reactions between antigen and antibody on immune chromatographic test strips using AuNPs.
Smart shirt
A team of technology, medical, and textile experts of Israel have created a shirt that not only monitors heart activity, but is also able to detect any sort of disease that the person may have. The device senses any abnormalities and sends alerts directly to patients and their doctors on their cell phones. The shirt is machine washable and comes in an array of colours and sizes. There are sensors in the shirt that are really heartbeat monitors coupled with 12-lead electrocardiogram. The shirt also has a pocket to hold a transmitter, which sends real-time information to a cloud database. (http://www.wallstreetdaily.com/2015/01/13/smart-shirt-wearable-technology/)
Insitu drugs
Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US have shown how it may be possible to self-assemble "nanofactories" that make protein compounds, on demand, at target sites in human body. So far they have tested the idea in mice, by creating nanoparticles programmed to produce either green fluorescent protein (GFP) or luciferase exposed to UV light.
Surgical mesh
Currently, the surgical meshes used to repair the protective membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord are made of thick and stiff material, which is difficult to work with. The lead nanofiber mesh developed by researchers is thinner, more flexible and more likely to integrate with the body's own tissues. The lead product is a synthetic polymer comprising individual strands of nanofibers, and was developed to repair brain and spinal cord injuries. But it could also be used to mend hernias, fistulas and other injuries.
Researchers at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) have recently demonstrated a new way to make nanofibers out of proteins. Nanofibers made out of proteins derived from cartilage can be self-assembled into nanofibers and used to trigger the release of an attached drug molecule.
Other applications
Micro plasmas have been used successfully in dental applications (improved bonding, tooth whitening, root canal disinfection), biological decontamination (inactivation of microorganisms and bio films), therapeutic applications such as tumour detection, cancer imaging, drug delivery, and treatment of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and disinfection and preservation of fresh fruits and vegetables.

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