Nanotechnology in medicine

The medical potential of nanotechnologies is huge

In the USA, wound dressings that exploit the antimicrobial properties of nanocrystalline silver are already on the market. Nanomaterials could make good implants. Nanoparticles such as nanocrystalline zirconium oxide (zirconia) and nanocrystalline silicon carbide are strong, lightweight, resistant to wear and corrosion, and – unlike many other nanoparticles – inert.

Carbon nanotubes can also be used to improve more conventional titanium implants. By coating the titanium, the carbon nanotubes increase bone deposition on the implant, reducing the likelihood the implant will be rejected.

Nanotechnology could revolutionise medicine. The effect it could have on drug delivery has received great attention from researchers. Nanoparticles engineered to be attracted to a specific diseased cell type (e.g. cancerous cells) can be loaded with drugs, allowing the drugs to be delivered more precisely than in traditional pill forms and reducing the side-effects that occur in healthy cells.

Researchers in Singapore have developed a nanomedicine to treat glaucoma patients. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in the world and is caused by the high pressure of fluid in the eye.

Currently, patients are required to use daily eyes drops to reduce the pressure in the eye. But by injecting the nanomedicine, the drug is released in the eye slowly over six months, removing the need for patients to stick to a strict daily regime. A study in six patients has been completed successfully, and the scientists who developed the treatment have set up a spin-off company and are looking to commercialise the nanomedicine injection.

Lead image:

Khuloud T Al-Jamal and Izzat Suffian/Wellcome Images CC BY NC ND

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Nanoscience’ in June 2005 and reviewed and updated in August 2014.

Medicine, Health, infection and disease, Biotechnology and engineering
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development