Nanotechnology for Precision Medicine - From Digestible Sensors to Nanorobots for Drug Delivery

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

Nanotechnology is used in many areas of medicine, but perhaps the most important use is in precision medicine. While there are some well-known problems with using general immunizations to protect against everything, precision medicine goes one step further by being able to target exactly what is needed to treat or prevent risks determined by an individual's genetics, lifestyle, environment, and more.

Nanotechnology includes the development of devices for drug delivery to specific parts of the body. This is in addition to all of the other potential uses of nanotechnology cell membranes, energy storage, mechanical structures, electronics, and more.

One area of precision medicine that is becoming more and more important is the use of sensors, or in some cases tiny computers, which can be embedded into the body to monitor certain aspects of a person's health.

An example is the work of neuro engineers from Rice University in Texas, USA. They have developed tiny implants that can interact with the nervous system and can detect certain types of seizure activity. The tiny surgical implant can electrically stimulate the brain and nervous system without using a battery or wired power supply. The neural stimulation could be useful for treating depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and more than a third of those who suffer from chronic, intractable pain that often leads to anxiety, depression, and opioid addiction.

The current challenge with this type of technology is the development of biological materials that can act as semiconductors and can be integrated with the nervous system. This is a challenge that is being addressed by teams around the world.

One such team from the University of Michigan has invented a device that can quickly produce large numbers of living entities that resemble very primitive human embryos.

The research led by Jianping Fu, an associate professor of biomedical engineering will allow allows scientist to observe the processes underlying the formation of the human body plan never directly observed before. Understanding these processes holds potential to reveal the causes of human birth defects and diseases, and to develop tests for these in pregnant women.

Another example is digestible sensors, which can be placed into the stomach to detect the status of the individual. These could include a small computer that can detect when someone is about to have a heart attack and can give them emergency treatment before it is too late.

Nanobots for Disease Detection and Prevention

Nanotechnology is already being used in some hospitals to prevent the spread of disease. For example, nanobots can enter the body through tiny cuts or injuries and repair the immune system.

Nanobots can also be injected directly into the bloodstream to triangulate the proper levels of certain substances in the blood. It could also be used to detect disease before it becomes a problem. Nanomachines can already be injected into the body that can self-replicate and differentiate between healthy and diseased cells.

These nano-machines can be used in the treatment and cure of cancer. They can self-replicate and destroy diseased cells while leaving normal cells alone. They can also travel throughout the body and attack certain types of cancer more effectively than other technologies such as chemotherapy.

UK based start-up Causeway Sensors uses nanotechnology to provide better candidate selection during drug development. These nano-sized chips can be used to detect early-stage cancer and other diseases.

Another start-up Nanobiotix, designs, and manufactures nanoparticles that safely enhance the efficacy of radiation therapy in the treatment of cancer. The French start-up’s product NBTXR3 is a novel radio enhancer composed of functionalized hafnium oxide nanoparticles that are administered via one-time intra-tumoral injection and activated by radiation therapy. NBTXR3 is designed to generate increased cellular destruction when activated by radiation therapy without increasing damage to healthy tissues.

Many companies are also working on developing technologies that use an unknown virus to introduce specific DNA sequences into the body's cells. These types of treatments can be very effective at treating certain types of cancer, but they can also affect normal body cells and can cause severe illness in some cases.