Nanotechnology in Healthcare
Innovations in the field of medicine require a lot of testing and research for them to get approved and become popularly accepted. Every improvement in our understanding of science progressively promotes efficiency by reduced size and increased output of our machinery.
One such technology that has the capacity to create far reaching changes is that of using microscopic tools to prevent and treat diseases. This branch of science that uses very small-scale devices to cause microscopic manipulations is termed as Nanotechnology. It is a promising endeavour in medicine that plans to use extremely minute devices or “robots” to deliver drugs inside the body; aid in assessment of the health of an individual from the inside or even repair cellular damage. Some researchers believe that it can be the breakthrough in curing cancer. The nanomedicine industry is growing rapidly and expects to achieve a market size of $261,063 million by 2023.
As the name suggests, these devices are very small. For perspective, nanotechnology uses material with dimensions less than 100 nanometres; that is 10,000 times less than the width of a strand of human hair!
Their size gives them the potential to reach all parts of the body that have previously remained unchartered by traditional means. Using them also reduces the invasiveness of procedures and hence provides a much safer alternative to conventional techniques of investigation, diagnosis and even surgery. This opens up avenues for creating more efficient modalities of treatment and repair of the body tissues. These nanoparticles can be released into the bloodstream and can be used to manipulate the internal environment of an individual’s body.
There have already been great advancements in healthcare that can be attributed to nanotechnology. A product called “Smart Pill” exists in the market which is an ingestible capsule with sensors that collects useful data from the digestive tract like pH and temperature. The data is then wirelessly transmitted to a receiver attached on the belt of the user or worn with a lanyard. This data can then be viewed and analysed by the doctor. It makes monitoring of the internal environment very simple and effective. This is a rather large-sized device that uses the principles of nanotechnology. Its existence and performance is a proof that nanorobots can be further improved to streamline assessment of body function.
Another mainstream application is that in the field of surgery; especially those surgeries that deal with minute, delicate structures. A surgeon releases a microscopic needle into the eye of the patient using a normal needle. That microneedle is then guided inside the eye using a magnetic field which is then used to perform an intricate surgery. Traditional means can never provide such precision and accuracy as these nanoparticles.
Nanomedicine has the capacity to cause certain miraculous changes in medicine in the future. Ongoing researches are dealing with its use in detecting the presence of microbes (like bacteria, viruses) in the body, which means that they could detect whether the person has an infection or not, possibly making blood tests for infection redundant. They could also act as an early warning system by detecting mutations in the body that could detect cancer before it actually starts to spread in the body. That could be extremely helpful in planning proper treatment. Nanoparticles might also be able to tell whether a particular drug is effective or not which could help plan the treatment accordingly. All these and many more opportunities of innovation make this branch an area of interest for researchers around the world.
However, there are various uncertainties when it comes to the use of nanomedicine. Very little data is available when it comes to the long term impact of nanotechnology on the human body and the environment. Some ethical concerns are also raised around the concept of data collection and use and distribution of private data when it comes to the monitoring of body functions by devices such as the Smart Pill. There is a possibility of it being weaponized if it reaches the wrong hands. The governments in most countries do not have any clear-cut policies regarding this and hence the support and funding is unresolved. The initial designing phase is also quite expensive and requires expertise to ensure effectiveness.
All this points to various obstacles that need to be overcome in order to make full use of this technology and create products for the improvement of healthcare across the globe. The market uptake can be significantly increased by the use of unique decision-making frameworks. The use of systematic, structured cost-benefit analyses directs the emphasis on lowering medical spending while improving quality of service and generating value for money in the healthcare sector. Value for money is shown in society by treatment or medications that have the lowest cost for each health issue that requires treatment.
In conclusion, it is safe to say that we can expect nanomedicine to revolutionize the healthcare industry as it holds the promise to create early detection and diagnosis, improved treatment and better follow-up which would make healthcare more efficient, highly affordable and less risky. This technology revolving around small particles is bound to create big waves!