To begin with, let us address what nanotechnology is. By definition, it is the branch of technology that deals with the controlling of matter on the atomic and molecular scale. In layman’s terms, very very tiny. It technically refers to things that are about 100 nanometers across.
Scientists have used and continue to use nanotechnology to detect elements such as carbon nanotubes, zinc oxide nanowires or palladium nanoparticles. These palladium nanoparticles can be detected in nanotechnology-based sensors. They are very small in size. As a result, a few gas molecules are enough to change the electrical properties of the sensing elements.
Nanotechnology has been experimented with on three human studies. In one of those three, only one study showed the passage of nanoparticles. While they are not harmful on their own, they could be harmful when inhaled in the form of nanoparticles which goes into the bloodstream. The effects of the inhaled particles on the body include lung inflammation and heart conditions. Meaning, that in large amounts, it can be potentially very dangerous to human beings when exposed.
When it comes to cancer treatment, nanotechnology has allowed the exploration of potentially destroying cancer tumors with minimal damage to surrounding healthy tissues and organs. There is also the possibility of early cancer detection and elimination before the tumor itself forms. While these possibilities are exciting, it is currently a potential idea for a future cancer treatment and cure. Most of the efforts being applied to modify cancer treatment now are at the research and development stage.
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The developments underway are highly focused and the hope is to make a cure for cancer a reality. While many countries are working in the area of nanotechnology, their combined efforts could lead to a cure in the possibility lying between a decade or so. The US National Cancer Institute is focused on concentrating their efforts to a cure as soon as possible safely.
Some of the cancer treatments under development involve targeting chemotherapy as a tumor-killing agent by delivering an agent called the tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF) to eliminate cancer tumors. The idea is to attach TNF to a gold nanoparticle to along with thiol-derivatized polythene glycol abbreviated to PEG-THIOL, to hide the TNF bearing nanoparticle from the human immune system. Effectively allowing the nanoparticle to flow through the bloodstream without being attacked by the body’s immune system. It cloaks it and deceives the body, like a trojan horse to deliver a killing agent.
Another mind blogging experiment is using heat by application to destroy cancer cells. This technique that is being developed uses nanoparticles called auroshells, to absorb infrared light from a laser to turn the light into heat. Other techniques being explored include using nanoparticles to deliver drugs to tumors for treatment. While another chemo-targeted treatment is being delivered by a different facility for a unique method named cerulean pharma to eliminate the cells. No matter the method of delivery, the end result is focused on either reducing but essentially in eliminating cancerous tumors.
One of the major benefits of using nanotechnology is that the nanodevices are uniquely small. The scale of nanodevices to human cells is one hundred to ten thousand times smaller. They are actually similar in size to large biological molecules like enzymes and receptors. Nanoscale devices can easily enter most cells, making scientific research efforts viable at best to become possible solutions in the near future. They can move out of blood cells and circulate through the body. Due to their small size, they can interact with biomolecules both on the surface and inside the cells themselves.
Since they can access so many areas of the body, their potential to detect disease and deliver treatment in ways that seemed impossible before are now looked upon as achievable science. It is also good to note that biological processes that lead to cancer, happen at the nanoscale of things.