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What is Medical Nanotechnology?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2016
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Medical nanotechnology is a branch of nanotechnology which applies principles in this field to health care issues. Nanotechnology is a broad spectrum of scientific endeavors which involves manufacturing and machining which take place on a molecular scale. There are a number of potential applications for medical nanotechnology, and in its early phases, many people were quite excited about the huge changes which could occur in the medical world with the assistance of medical technology.

Because nanotechnology operates on such a small scale, it offers the opportunity to create precisely targeted surgical instruments, drug delivery systems, and implants. Nanobots, for example, could be used to perform a non-invasive medical imaging study inside the body, or to perform surgical procedures. Nanomaterials can also be implanted into the body; for example, someone with a badly damaged bone or joint could be treated with nanoparticles which would promote new growth, regrowing the damaged tissue.

Medical nanotechnology also makes cell repair on a molecular level possible, and provides a number of opportunities for medication administration. Drugs developed through nanotechnology could directly penetrate cells, for example, or nanoparticles could be designed to target cancer cells, delivering medication or providing a focal point for radiation. Medical nanotechnology can also be used to make biosensors which can be implanted into patients for monitoring, along with medical devices which are designed to be permanently implanted such as pacemakers.

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This field also has a number of implications for prosthetics. Nanomaterials could be used to give people greater control over prosthetic limbs, and potentially to do things like restoring function to the eyes. Several militaries have invested in medical nanotechnology for the purpose of developing new treatments for injured soldiers. The field also creates a potential for the development of devices which could enhance human function, much to the delight of science fiction authors around the world.

Some concerns have been raised about the use of nanomaterials in the medical field. Some people are worried that nanoparticles could interfere with normal body function, making people sick, or that nondevices could get out of control, resulting in activities beyond those for which they are designed. Thus, much of medical nanotechnology is focused on making it safe for patients and medical providers. The history of medicine is filled with examples of concepts and procedures which were initially viewed with deep skepticism and later widely embraced; most people today, for example, widely accept that they should wash their hands regularly, but this idea was heretical when it was introduced in the 1800s.

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submariner
Post 3

@ Glasshouse- Genetic engineering, like nanotechnology, in the medical field is already creating a similar situation. Most developing nations are unable to purchase the technology for genetic modification, and since it is a science that has been developed by the private sector, there is little information sharing for humanitarian reasons. This has resulted in an economy where most genetic research is being performed to find economically profitable uses for the technology rather than socially profitable uses. Little is being done to modify foods to have malaria vaccines, or added vitamin A, yet on the other hand, there is research being done to genetically modify foods so that they promote obesity resistance. This would be worthless in developing nations, but it would be an economic boom in industrial nations where twice the amount needed to eradicate world hunger is being spent on weight loss products.

Glasshouse
Post 2

There are also ethical issues raised by medical nanotechnology. Biomedical nanotechnology may actually further the socioeconomic divide. We may run into the problem, which is also referenced in science fiction movies, where only the wealthier segments of the population can afford nanotechnology, creating a scenario where there is a sharply stratified social divide. Those who cannot afford nano-drugs will only be further excluded from their benefits as the technology advances.

This scenario may become amplified when biomedical nanotechnology is used to enhance a person's competitiveness. If a drug is designed that can allow someone to think faster, be stronger, etc., it may cause an even larger disadvantage for the lower social classes. Think about the impact that access to education has on poor and minority groups versus their middle class and rich majority counterparts. Now add physiological enhancements to the mix, and you have an ethical situation that can ultimately lead to a deterioration of society.

lokithebeak
Post 1

Well we've all seen the science fiction horror of nanobots gone haywire and I think most of us have learned a very important lesson. Make sure to have a backup OFF button lol! Either that or someone without the bots in them standing by to pull the plug!

Course also from movies, the military and advanced technology meant for good...never seem to go well together.

Seriously though, this could be such a leap forward in medical care.

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