The trend is inescapable. Nanotechnology is a rapidly growing field and will affect us all at some stage in our lives whether we know it or not. Profound research is underway looking at areas and ways in which the new technology can improve our lifestyles. Some applications are currently available.
Following are some of the major applications of common interest:
Over the last decade nanostructured materials have been the subject of tremendous interest, with the potential for wide-ranging industrial, biomedical, and electronic applications. These can include metals, ceramics, polymeric materials, or nanocomposites. The nanomaterials field has seen a huge increase in funding from private enterprises and government, and academic researchers within the field have formed many partnerships.
Nanotechnology in Medicine
Nanotechnology is enabling scientists, engineers, and physicians to work at the cellular and molecular levels to produce major benefits to the medical, biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.
Ceramic nanocomposites in artificial joints
The European Commission reports that ceramic nanocomposites could solve the problem of fracture failures in artificial joint implants. This would extend patient mobility and eliminate the high cost of reparative surgery.
Italy's Istituto Ortopedico Rizzoli and Insavalor in France are evaluating the components — conducting tests for citotoxicity, genotoxicity and fatigue behaviour when exposed to simulated body fluids.
A problem with medical implants is their acceptance by surrounding tissues. Specially developed coatings using nanoscale techniques and nanotextured surfaces to create a cell friendly environment encourages tissue to bond to the implant. As a result, the implant will last longer and be more comfortable.
Nanotechnology can also take the potential for the rehabilitation of the weak and old to a totally new level. Some of the devices presently being researched include retinal implants. Many people suffer of degeneration of the retina with old age. One solution is to use a photosensor array which will detect incoming light and connect it to a signal processor. A signal can then be transmitted to an implanted receiver at the retinal interface which is connected via microcontact to the retinal nerve.
Nanotechnolgy is being used in teeth and bone replacements copying the way nature itself lays down minerals. This process is called biomimicry. Biomimicry is already the basis of new tough and light materials for bullet proof vests and other defence applications.
The use of nanopatterned polymers could eliminate the long recovery times, scarring and infection associated with and bone grafts. Researchers hope to use this technique to grow adult stem cells that will turn into bone.
The application of nanotechnology will result in artificial skin, reconstructed tissue and wound treatments that are better, durable and more acceptable. This will help in the regeneration of tissues and even whole organs will be able to be grown to replace organs that have failed due to disease or old age.
Tissue engineering at the nanoscale level is leading to the development of viable substitutes which can restore, maintain or improve the function of human tissues.
Chemistry, nanotechnology and materials science are all important tools used by cell engineers to study and control how cells behave.
Cells react on the micro and nano scale to the shape and chemistry of their surrounding environment. Nanoscale grooves no wider then the sells themselves can act as templates causing cells to line up. Once cells can be induced to organise themselves, even more possibilities open up, ranging from wound repair through to the future vision of growing whole organs.
Artery replacement is also possible using structures made form natural polymer to act as a scaffold around a patients natural artery, which given the appropriate stimulus, can be encouraged to regenerate. These scaffolds being biodegradable melt away after the regenerated artery is in place.
Nanocapsules: Nanocapsules encapsulate a drug’s active component in a relatively inert 'nanocapsule', which binds and opens in response to a target tissue site. A self-assembling nanoscale polymer carries anti-cancer drugs across the blood-brain barrier. This then targets the affected tissue only thus producing less side effects.
Nano-particles: Magnetically coupled inorganic manufactured nano-particles are drugs being drawn to a drug target via an externally applied magnet. This places nanomagnetic particles into the tumours. Under the influence of a magnetic field, these particles heat up and dissolve the tumour cells within the body. This is seen as a more effective treatment of cancer.
A Nanosphere incorporating therapeutic agents allows better penetration of the particles inside the body. Its size allows delivery via intravenous injection and therefore they can be used for intramuscular or subcutaneous applications. This minimises the irritant reactions at the injection site.
Dendrimers go through the vascular pores and into tissue more efficiently than larger carriers. They have a high drug-carrying capacity that can release a heavy payload (desirable with cancer drugs) without damaging tissue.
Nanoporous membranes act as tiny turnstiles for releasing drugs. By making the nanopores only slightly larger then the molecules of drugs, they can control the rate of diffusion of the molecules keeping it constant, regardless of the amount of drug remaining inside a capsule. Nanoporous membranes can also be used in implantable devices for the treatment of chronic disease.
Nanoparticulates fight against TB, diabetes
Nanoparticulates are used for inhalation technology. Polymeric 'Trojan' nanoparticles are designed to efficiently deliver to the lungs particles possessing dimensions and mass too small to otherwise deposit effectively. This allows sustained drug action and release throughout the lungs. This long-action therapy through the process of inhalation is important for fighting diseases such as tuberculosis and diabetes.
Buckyballs effective in fighting AIDS
Buckyballs are a stable platform that enhances a drug's effectiveness by allowing it to more readily attach itself to its intended molecular target. The buckyball is readily absorbed into the blood stream and has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. Buckyballs are seen to particularly effective in fighting HIV.
Tennis balls: Nanotech has already enhanced the life of tennis balls. The inner core of this ball is coated with a barrier to maintain the air pressure and bounce at least two times longer, increasing the playable time of the ball.
Automobile tyres: In tyres, the new technology helps reduce weight, improve fuel efficiency, improve pressure retention and reduce recycling and incineration costs.