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Nanotechnology: A New Frontier of Medicine?

Kalamazoo, MI

As we push the limits of medicine and technology into new territory, what does the rise of nanotechnology mean for the future of healthcare? Technology is one of the fastest growing sectors of focus in our world, especially in the medical field, and with that comes constant new innovations to further the quality of healthcare for everyday civilians. Recently, nanotechnology has been making an appearance in medical procedures, especially in things like disease diagnostics and scans. To understand what this means for the future of medicine, we first need to understand: what is nanotechnology?

The first use of nanotechnology was recorded around 1974, but many other sources say that humans did not start outright exploring its uses until the mid-to-late 1980s. Since its uses have only been studied recently, scientists still do not have a full idea of the dangers it poses to those who work closely with the technology. However, nanotech exposure seems to have few adverse health effects, with limited evidence suggesting caution to exposure to free-unbound nanoparticles. Essentially, this means nanoparticles mixed with other foreign substances, such as liquids and aerosols, become unstable and require extreme caution to handle. More recently, nanotech has been used in the medical field to ensure more economical and safer ways to execute procedures, with a heavy focus on using nanotechnology for cancer research.

Nanotechnology is defined by the CDC as “the manipulation of matter on a near-atomic scale to produce new structures, materials and devices. The technology promises scientific advancement in many sectors such as medicine, consumer products, energy, materials, and manufacturing.” Due to their miniscule size, pieces of nanotechnology have unique characteristics regarding physical, chemical, and biological make up and behavior. Pieces of nanotechnology can be used inside the body to identify diseases before they would show up on other diagnostic technologies. Specifically, nanoparticles can be attached to “specific biomarkers to enhance imaging modalities such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT) scans, and positron emission tomography (PET) scans, making them more sensitive, accurate, and specific” (National Library of Medicine). Beyond simple disease diagnostics, nanoparticles can also be used in in vitro diagnostics (IVDs), which use human substances, such as tissue and bone samples, to further detect any issues within the human body. By employing nanotechnology in these imaging systems, doctors and scientists are greatly expanding the capacity for personalized medicine, which can create faster and more effective treatments for disease patients.

So, what does this mean for the future of medicine? We’re still in the very early stages of experimentation, so it is hard to know for sure, but we can expect to continue to see an increase in the usage of nanotechnology in screening procedures. Additionally, because of the scale of the procedures, they may also become more affordable in the American healthcare system, because they will be less invasive and time consuming. There are a few risks to consider, such as the toxicity of said nanoparticles, but from current research, there does not currently seem to be any existing long-term negative effects. In the next decade or so, we can guess that the usage of nanoparticles in medicine will continue to grow, and with it will bring a new frontier of accessible and less invasive medicine.

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