Nanotechnology is word that comes from Greek word that means dwarf. In metric scale, the prefix Nano means one billionth of a meter, which is a minute particle whose length is that of ten hydrogen atoms or approximately one thousandth of the width of human hair. Nanotechnology by definition refers to engineering at a very small scale. Nanotechnology is a very interesting field of science that has high prospects for high returns against low investments.
It is basically characterized by producing gargets that are smaller, inexpensive, faster, performing intelligently, utilize less raw materials and require less energy. The application of nanotechnology ranges from simple to complex uses in various spheres of life. In medical field, nanotechnology is one of the novel scientific discoveries which give high prospects for betterment of human life. This has led to initiation of numerous research projects worldwide with an aim of exploring the potential area in medicine where nano technology can be used successfully.
Human body cells are very minute and complex. In field of nanotechnology, some researchers are studying the biological nanosystems while on the other hand others are targeting to incorporate the organic and inorganic compounds into the nanoscale. Out of these studies, there are many areas that have identified as potential application areas. They include implants and prosthetics, diagnostics using sensors and micro electro mechanical systems as well as drug delivery using nanoparticles and molecular carrier. Conceptually, nanotechnology has shown to be promising in the area of implants and prosthetics.
With the high speed of discoveries of new products and the complementary role which biotechnology and nanotechnology are playing for each other. It has been proofed that it is very possible to manufacture man made organs, tissues and implants that are very close or even similar to the natural ones in the body. This is possible by using the technology of nurturing cells on artificial scaffolds or artificially made coatings that improve biocompatibility and lower the chances of rejection. This can be used in various body systems like in the nervous system.
The technology can be of benefit in retinal, cochlear and neural implants and on the integurmentary system for replacement of worn out and damaged tissues, skin and bone. The second possible application is in the area of diagnostics where sensors and micro electro mechanical systems can be used for making diagnosis of various medical conditions. By using micro electro mechanical systems, laboratory-on-a-chip technology is now being developed for faster detection of pathological conditions which requires a very small specimen.
This technique is being initiated in collaboration with the microfluidics. Prospects are very high that monitors may be made available in the meantime for examination and continuous check ups of personal health. The fast developing industry of genomics and nanotechnology have shown high probability of discovering a sensors that are able to determine quick and precise analysis of genetic make up. This will make knowledge on genetic related diseases become available hence finding their curative and preventive measures will become cheap.
The third application of nanotechnology will be on drug delivery. This is by use of nano particle and molecular carriers. Solubility of drugs may be very much improved by using nano particles hence the absorption rate into the body system also increases significantly. Drugs have been characterized by some side effects to the user. With nano technology, such drugs can be packed in a molecular carrier which prevent the user from such adverse effects as well as protecting the drugs from the stomach acids which may reduce their efficacy and efficiency.
Studies of getting such drugs have already began in earnest in various leading research institutions around the world. The preclinical and clinical trials have already began and this is being done under very strict regulatory demands by the pharmaceutical regulatory authorities to prevent any harm which these drugs may have to human health. The cost of developing these drugs are very high and they have been identified as the major challenge to attainment of this noble idea.
The fourth application is a combination of lab-on a chip and advanced drug delivery system. This combination targets to come up with some gargets that can be implanted in the body system so that it can perpetually do monitoring of pathological condition resulting from fluctuation in the levels of different chemical compounds in the bloodstream. When done appropriately, these combined gargets can produce the necessary drugs to correct fluctuations that may result to adverse condition in the body systems.
For instance, a person with the problem of diabetes can use this device for the purpose of monitoring the fluctuations in blood sugar levels so that it can initiate the required adjustments in insulin levels without the patient having to inject him/herself with insulin every other time it fluctuates. This increases the efficiency and effectiveness of insulin in treatment of diabetes as well as reducing the cost of diabetic care.
Despite all these prospected benefits of nanotechnology, there has been a heated debate on the ethical consideration in using this technology as far as its application in human beings is concerned. This is because there is no one who knows the kind of ethical issues that are likely to emerge out of it. Researchers have identified the following as the possible ethical aspects that may come with nanomedicine as it progresses from laboratory to the clinics.
Firstly, there is the issue of the changing understanding of human disease. One of the uses of nanomedicine will be for diagnostics. It is expected that this technology will generate a lot of information concerning the micro and nano organization of the cells. However, the ethical issue of concern here is whether this extra information will be of any significant use to the society and the individual wellness. The second ethical issue will be the question of enhancement compared with the therapy.
Unlike the conventional treatment, nanotechnology in medicine has fixed attention on creation and facilitation of the functioning of body parts and systems which were not present by means of implantable medical devices based on nanoscale. This raises the issue of Trans- humanism that has triggered a lot of controversy in circles of medicine and different religions. The third ethical issue is concerned with the risks and benefits of nanotechnology in the field of health care.
Given that nanomedicine and nanotechnology in general is a novel approach to problems affecting mankind, there is no empirical data that is in existence about the negative impacts it can have to the way of life of human kind. There is a great vacuum of knowledge on nanoparticles which are the basics of nanotechnology on the ways or how they can react to the normal biochemical pathways and other vital functioning processes of the body.
Many research scientists are worried about the toxicity of and the resulting effects to the exposure of the pathways to the nanoparticles. In addition to this, there is also the problem of disposal of nanowaste and their resulting pollution to the environment especially during the process of making the nanomedical devices. It is therefore very important to advice the patients using nanotechnology drugs that there has been no long term follow up of information concerning nanomedicine hence they can result or be accompanied by long term unknown adverse effects.
The last critical ethical issue is the matter of confidentiality and privacy. The use of nanotechnology enabled, whether swallowed or implanted diagnostic gargets can gather a lot of individuals cellular /sub cellular information of the body systems that can be electronically be conveyed to medical database servers to be monitored and later undergo analysis using computer diagnostic programs.
Once this information is collected, the one million questions that arises is whether the health information systems can sufficiently handle the information with privacy and confidentiality demanded by many patients. In conclusion it is evident that nanomedicine will provide a health care provision package that is very accurate with minimal side effects and pain than the current medical technology. Drugs will become more efficient and effective.
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