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A New Medical Frontier: Nanotechnology

Authored by Carissa Nair, Biological Sciences ‘26

Art by Carina Garcia, Biological Sciences '23


Scientists have always gravitated towards the impossible. As a society, we have evolved from extolling the virtues of the four-humor theory of the body to examining microscopic organisms and manipulating the human genome. For a long period of time, however, the intricacies of the atom and its subatomic particles have been concepts of immense mystery. Quark theory, for instance, was once a field of physics obscure to all but a few. However, as we are in the age of innovation, it should be no surprise that nanotechnology—scientific design on the atomic scale, namely through the use of element-derived nanomaterials [1]—is about to revolutionize the medical field. In short, it will reinvent everything from regenerative medicine to treatment methods for neurodegenerative disorders. In the last decade, nanotechnology has been implemented as a part of drug-delivery systems, solar panels, fuel cells, and anti-pollution innovations [2].


Stem cell therapy has proven to be an area of abundant investigation in the past twenty years. In 2006, Shinya Yamanaka and Sir John B. Gordon developed “induced pluripotent stem cells” or iPCs [3]—a therapeutic development possessing immeasurable potential to positively impact patients afflicted with various disorders. This was due to the fact that treatments utilizing embryonic stem cells, the traditional method, were associated with a range of ethical concerns and procedural difficulties–making iPCs a preferable alternative. This field of regenerative medicine, however, can be further improved by nanotechnology. Recently, Correa et al. examined how nanotechnology can eliminate ethical risks associated with the usage of embryonic stem cells and promote adoption of restorative processes [4]. This is significant, given that these processesjjj were previously difficult and time-consuming. Graphene oxide nanosheets (layers of carbon-oxygen lattices), for instance, can modify cellular signaling mechanisms involving integrin proteins in embryonic stem cells, thereby promoting growth and proliferation [4]. Several studies detailed in this article have demonstrated how these nanosheets can be used to improve treatment outcomes for Parkinson’s and sickle cell anemia [4].


Additionally, in 2021, scientists at the University of Southampton engineered gold nanoparticles that can target and improve skeletal stem cells. This treatment has the potential to repair bone tissue and fractures while providing a less expensive treatment alternative [5]. In fact, these gold nanoparticles can be extremely important contributors to medicine, as proven by a study by Kharlamov et al. involving silica-gold nanoparticles. Kharlamov et al. defined how the aforementioned nanoparticles were able to significantly reduce atheroma volume in a clinical study [6]. An ‘atheroma’ references the effect of fatty deposits and plaque on arterial walls—a factor often implicated in cardiovascular disease. As this disease is currently the leading cause of death in the United States, these results are very relevant [7].


Cancer research is another example of a field pioneering nanotechnology innovation. Existing treatments for this disease, like radiation and chemotherapy, are few and far between, with each having their share of dangerous side effects. In 2022, Pan et al. examined how nanotechnology could combat these negative consequences by developing precision-based, image-driven, risk-free radiation therapy [8]. Through a method called radioprotection, it is now possible to preserve areas surrounding radiation therapy target regions. These adaptive nanomedicines can also operate along routes in the body targeting drug delivery and tumor treatment [8]. Queiroz Schmidt et al. also observed an improvement in participants’ skin condition upon treating them with a cream consisting of vitamin-E nanoparticles, designed to alleviate radiodermatitis, a skin condition caused by radiation exposure [9]. Studies like these provide hope that there are just as many possibilities for nanotechnology in symptom prevention and elimination as there are in symptom management.

The scope of nanotechnology is not, however, solely limited to cancer and stem cell research. Nano-innovations have also shown considerable promise in treating neurodegenerative disorders. Kaur et al. conducted an experiment in which scientists used nanoparticles to modify the phosphorylated tau protein implicated in Alzheimer’s (a method that has had beneficial effects in patients). A problem encountered with these types of drugs in the past was the inefficiency of the delivery. This ‘inefficiency’ is largely attributed to how the blood-brain barrier (BBB), an aggregation of tissue that keeps foreign molecules from the brain, prevents medication from acting as designed. This new application thereby improves the inefficiency of traditional drug delivery systems [10]. Tau-focused nanotechnology can also prove important for treating Parkinson’s, palsy, and dementia patients [10].

Mittal et al. also reviewed research on the optimization of drug-delivery systems with nanocarriers, particles that can transport ligands [11]. Diseases involving the central nervous system are oftentimes most impacted by the BBB’s interference with medication. The review article details how Gao et al. demonstrated success with allowing drugs to cross the BBB using biodegradable polyester nanoparticles. Neurotoxins can also ‘couple’ with gold nanoparticles and facilitate passage [12]. Again, the importance of gold nanoparticles and nanocarriers in medical research is highlighted.


Thus, nanotechnology is an immensely important tool in science—one that can pave the way for revolutionary developments in preventative and therapeutic healthcare. Graphene oxide nanosheets and nanoparticles made from gold, polyester, and even vitamins demonstrate the ability to address a host of debilitating health conditions. It is likely that studies on the atomic scale will be integrated into many research disciplines—and that they possess the potential to significantly alter scientific perspectives in the near future.


Works Cited


  1. What is nanotechnology? National Nanotechnology Initiative. (n.d.). Retrieved March 1, 2023, from https://www.nano.gov/nanotech-101/what/definition

  2. Jagadish, C., & Barnard, A. (2015, October 28). Nanoscience: Thinking big, Working Small. Australian Academy of Science. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from https://www.science.org.au/curious/nanoscience

  3. The Nobel prize in physiology or medicine 2012. NobelPrize.org. (n.d.). Retrieved March 1, 2023, from https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/2012/yamanaka/facts/

  4. Alzate-Correa, D., Lawrence, W. R., Salazar-Puerta, A., Higuita-Castro, N., & Gallego-Perez, D. (2022). Nanotechnology-Driven Cell-Based Therapies in Regenerative Medicine. The AAPS journal, 24(2), 43. https://doi.org/10.1208/s12248-022-00692-3

  5. Scientists use nanotechnology to detect bone-healing stem cells. University of Southampton. (2021, March 29). Retrieved March 1, 2023, from https://www.southampton.ac.uk/news/2021/03/nano-cells.page

  6. Kharlamov, A. N., Tyurnina, A. E., Veselova, V. S., Kovtun, O. P., Shur, V. Y., & Gabinsky, J. L. (2015). Silica-gold nanoparticles for atheroprotective management of plaques: results of the NANOM-FIM trial. Nanoscale, 7(17), 8003–8015. https://doi.org/10.1039/c5nr01050k

  7. Atheroma: What it is, causes and treatment. Cleveland Clinic. (2022, August 11). Retrieved March 26, 2023, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/24038-atheroma

  8. Pan, Y., Tang, W., Fan, W., Zhang, J., & Chen, X. (2022). Development of nanotechnology-mediated precision radiotherapy for anti-metastasis and radioprotection. Chemical Society reviews, 51(23), 9759–9830. https://doi.org/10.1039/d1cs01145f

  9. Queiroz Schmidt, F. M., Serna González, C. V., Mattar, R. C., Lopes, L. B., Santos, M. F., & Santos, V. L. C. G. (2022). Topical application of a cream containing nanoparticles with vitamin E for radiodermatitis prevention in women with breast cancer: A randomized, triple-blind, controlled pilot trial. European journal of oncology nursing : the official journal of European Oncology Nursing Society, 61, 102230. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejon.2022.102230

  10. Kaur, P., Khera, A., Alajangi, H. K., Sharma, A., Jaiswal, P. K., Singh, G., & Barnwal, R. P. (2023). Role of Tau in Various Tauopathies, Treatment Approaches, and Emerging Role of Nanotechnology in Neurodegenerative Disorders. Molecular neurobiology, 60(3), 1690–1720. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12035-022-03164-z

  11. Mittal, K. R., Pharasi, N., Sarna, B., Singh, M., Rachana, Haider, S., Singh, S. K., Dua, K., Jha, S. K., Dey, A., Ojha, S., Mani, S., & Jha, N. K. (2022). Nanotechnology-based drug delivery for the treatment of CNS disorders. Translational neuroscience, 13(1), 527–546. https://doi.org/10.1515/tnsci-2022-0258

  12. Gao, Y. L., Wang, N., Sun, F. R., Cao, X. P., Zhang, W., & Yu, J. T. (2018). Tau in neurodegenerative disease. Annals of translational medicine, 6(10), 175. https://doi.org/10.21037/atm.2018.04.23

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