Nanotechnology in Medicine

Miguel Sandoval

Nanotechnology is the production and study of small machines, particles, or structures that function at the molecular level and involves operating at the measure of 1 to 100 nanometers (Gyles 819). This technology is now being used to create singular-task performing structures. It has made headway in fields such as electronics, but its potential is still emerging in fields of physics, and most significantly, medicine. The way a material works and the properties it has changes at the nano-scale; something that is nanometers thick has abnormal capabilities that cannot be achieved at the macroscopic level. These unique qualities are especially useful in medical procedures (Gyles 819-820). These medical possibilities include treating cancer, creating synthetic enzymes, and treating reproductive disorders.

Nanotechnology originated as concept about two decades ago; it was designed in terms of its most basic function. There are two kinds of simplistic, fundamental architecture (the physical composition and construction of nanotechnology), which can be used to design nano-technological structures. These are known as von Newman and Drexler’s architectures. These architectures consist of the nanostructure or nanorobot being constructed from two parts, a computational component and constructor component. Newman’s architecture consists of the component that tells the device what to do and receives commands and a component that follows those commands and builds new nanostructures/nanorobots, while Drexler’s architecture’s component interacts with cells, rather than only duplicating its components (Merkle).

There are, as of now, numerous chemotherapy drugs that are given through nanotechnology, a delivery method that enables lessened toxicity. This existing treatment is deemed passive while most methods of cancer therapy are anticipated to be active systems. There is already existing nanotechnology created to distribute chemotherapy drugs that work from outside the cell. However, devices that can penetrate cancer cells and kill them from inside when signaled by an infrared laser or X-ray from outside the body are in development. Imaging methods for use in cancer detection can also be bettered through the usage of iron oxide nanoparticles aimed to attach to tumor cells, leading to improved magnetic resonance images. Quantum dot nanoparticles have been formed, which can be connected to antibodies that target infected cells allowing exact locating and quick detection of disease together with continual monitoring over time (Gyles 820).

A new kind of nanotechnology is being developed to interact with cells in a very systematic way. This nanotechnology is built using the latest advancements in DNA nanotech, which incorporates self-constructing “DNA origami” nanostructures, DNA sequences folded into structures that contain a payload meant to alter a target cell. This technology also makes use of the data encoded in nucleic acid for logic functions and circuitry calculations (necessary for the “programming” of the structures), and aptamers (sequence-specific nucleic acids), which have particular molecular-binding qualities. The DNA origami is constructed into a clam-like shape so a payload can fit inside and is only released when the DNA nanostructure is opened after aptamers undergo reaction, acting as a key that unlocks the whole structure. These constructions when opened deliver a chemical signal or anti-body for a cell, allowing for control/repair of the cell’s functions or for its use in the immune system (Elbaz and Willner 276). Working nanorobots built from nucleic acids have incredible potential
in nanomedicine. “The ability to control the configuration of the robots through the use of specific cell markers and to direct them to target cells by means of autonomous logic operations” can make treatments that zero in on cancer cells with high particularity and precision (Elbaz and Willner 277).

Another newly developed application of nanotechnology in medicine is the nanostructure being used as an artificial enzyme. Natural enzymes catalyze reactions and allow the processes in our bodies to activate with less energy, thus increase the speed of said processes. However, these natural enzymes have drawbacks in being artificially produced, such as low functioning structural integrity, low durability and susceptibility to their environment, and heavy creation and purification expenses (Lin et al. A). Entirely artificial enzyme nanostructures, or “nanozymes,” eliminate these drawbacks and have shown improvement in their usefulness, construction, and versatility. This new enzyme-nanotechnology comes in a variety of forms: carbon-based nanoparticles, metal-based nanoparticles, and metal oxide-based nanoparticles. These artificial enzymes also are more beneficial than natural enzymes in that they have a larger surface area and can also have other particular abilities aside from catalysis (Lin et al. B). This allows them to deliver treatment to a greater area and have more interaction with cells and the outside environment in general, as they are exposed to more of it (in terms of area).

Not only have there been advancements in nanotechnology involving the treatment of cancer and other diseases in the past decade, but a relatively new potential in reproductive medicine has also emerged. The possibility for nanotechnology to be used as a method for discovering a nonthreatening or problematic reproductive disorder is being researched and developed, as well as the potential to treat these conditions with nanotechnology. Because of the large surface area to volume ratio of nanoparticles, they can work well in biomedicine as they can pass through the body like any cell in the body, and they can function with and enter cells. (Barkalina et al. 2)

Most publications account using nanomaterials in the recognition and targeting of reproductive cancers. Yet, an increasing amount of experimental reports evaluate the use of nanotechnology for the diagnosis and therapy of non-cancer disorders, “including endometriosis uterine fibroids, ectopic pregnancy and trophoblastic diseases,” and in drug release/distribution systems (Barkalina et al. 1). These all involve complications with fertility or reproductive disorders that have the potential to be solved by nanotechnology. For example, in ectopic pregnancy, the occurrence where the embryo implants outside the uterus (extra-uterine preganancy), a medicine called Methotrexate is normally used to treat ectopic pregnancy and preserve fertility. However, this treatment is only effective in the beginning gestational stage. In order to overcome this and other issues in treating ectopic pregnancy (and another reproductive ailment called trophoblastic disease), Kaitu’u-Lino et. al. (2013) constructed nanospheres derivative of bacteria that can carry medicine and have a high carrying capacity, adjustability and minimal toxicity (Barkalina et al. 9). Further publications have concentrated on using nanomaterial’s as investigative tools in reproductive biology to alter and control gene manifestation in offspring, explore molecular passageways in gametes and primary-stage embryos, or indicate and choose certain gamete populations (Barkalina et al. 6).

Works Cited

 Gyles, Carlton. “Nanotechnology and Medicine.” The Canadian Veterinary Journal 53 (2012): 819-22. Web. 23 Jan. 2014. <>.

Merkle, Ralph C. “Nanotechnology and Medicine.” Advances in Anti-Aging Medicine 1 (1996): 277-86. Web. 25 Jan. 2014. <>

Elbaz, Johann, and Itamar Willner. “DNA Origami: Nanorobots Grab Cellular Control.” NATURE MATERIALS 11 (2012): 276-77. Web. 23 Jan. 2014. <>

Lin, Youhui, Jinsong Ren, and Xiaogang Qu. “Catalytically Active Nanomaterials: A Promising Candidate for Artificial Enzymes.” Accounts of Chemical Research (2013): A-I. Web. 22 Jan. 2014. <>.

Barkalina Natalia, Charalambous Charis, Jones Celine, PhD Kevin Coward, Nanotechnology in reproductive medicine: emerging applications of nanomaterials, Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine (2014).