The use of nanotechnology in medicine is a burgeoning field. Some developments of the new science are already being used, and many others are undergoing development and testing. One current use is nanotechnology drug delivery. Put simply, nanotechnology drug delivery involves using nanoparticles, microscopic manmade compounds, to deliver medicine, light, heat or other treatments to a particular organ or tissue in the body. Delivering medication only to the specific cells or tissue that needs it — a tumor, for example — is thought to be more effective as well as safer than conventional treatments.
Nanotechnology drug delivery to fight cancer is one of the key treatments being explored by researchers, and testing on nanotechnology that specifically targets tumor cells has already begun. The nanoparticles are designed so that they are attracted to the diseased cells only and not to any other tissue in the patient's body. With older medication-delivery technologies, the chemotherapy used to treat cancer can harm healthy tissue or fail to reach the targeted cancer cells.
Researchers are also exploring ways to use nanotechnology to allow patients to receive a dose of medicine orally instead of by injection. Again, nanoparticles are used to deliver the medicine to where it is needed. In this case, the important aspect of the nanotechnology drug delivery is that it helps the medication pass through the patient's stomach without breaking down. Once in the patient's intestines, the medicine can then pass into the bloodstream.
Of course, nanomedicine is not being explored exclusively for drug delivery. Scientists and medical researchers are also considering ways to use nanotechnology as the medicine or therapy itself. For instance, doctors have created nanoparticles called buckyballs, which are designed to help an allergy sufferer in the middle of a reaction. Nanofibers, which are microscopic filaments that could be used to repair a patient's damaged cartilage, are also being tested.
Two other possible uses for nanomedicine include diagnostic imaging and destroying germs. Certain nanoparticles have already proved themselves capable of killing staph infections and other microbes. As for imaging, certain nanoparticles might be able to help doctors discover tumors that are difficult to detect or to help lab workers uncover disease indicators in a blood or tissue sample.