New age capsules microscopic ‘grenades’

New age capsules of microscopic ‘grenades’

10:31 AM, 4th November 2016
Nanomedicine is the application of nanotechnologies in the medical field in which nanoparticles are used to improve the behavior of drug substances.
Nanomedicine is the application of nanotechnologies in the medical field in which nanoparticles are used to improve the behaviour of drug substances.

For decades, patients suffering from life-threatening ailments such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, AIDS and brain disorders, have been at the mercy of time. However, as the scopes of modern medicines broaden their horizons, health has succeeded - to reign over diseases. One such medical wonder is nanomedicine, which is dramatically changing the way medical science works.

By Debarati Das

With the advancements in medical research, nanomedicines is cur­rently being used globally to im­prove the treatments of wide range of ailments including ovarian and breast cancer, kidney disease, fun­gal infections, elevated cholesterol, menopausal symptoms, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, asthma, emphysema and many more.

Nanomedicine is the application of nanotechnologies in the medical field in which nanoparticles are used to improve the behaviour of drug substances. Nanotechnol­ogy can be used in monitoring, construction, repair, and control of human biological systems at the molecular level, using nanodevices and nanostructures.

Nanomedicines come as an alter­native to the difficulties experienced by normal medical approaches in delivering the benefit from the drug molecules used. For instance, sometimes drugs have little solu­bility in water and the human body struggles to absorb the medica­tion. In other cases, even though the drug molecule is absorbed well, the body eliminates the drug before the medication starts to give benefit. In cases of cancer treat­ment, the medication used leads to side-effects, as the medication also attacks healthy tissues and organs causing damage.

In such cases, nanomedicines play an important role in ensuring that adequate drug enters the body, and stays in the body for long periods and targets only those areas that need treatment.

Market Outreach

The rapid technological advance­ment in the field of nanomedicine across the globe has also ensured the growth of this industry.

The global nanomedicine market is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 12.3 percent from 2013 to 2019 and would reach $177.60 billion by 2019, according to a report by Transparency Market Research (TMR). Also, the global nanomed­icine market in 2012 was $78.54 billion, with nanomedicines for on­cology alone capturing a 38 percent share of the overall industry. How­ever, application in cardiovascular diseases is expected to witness the fastest growth in future with the rapid increase in the number of patients.

Furthermore, while North America has been the market leader since 2012 due to advanced healthcare infrastructure, Asia Pacific also shows exceptional potential in the future and is projected to grow at a 14.6 percent CAGR between 2013 and 2019. Some of the factors lead­ing to its growth is prevalence of diseases, rising awareness regard­ing healthcare, rise in healthcare facilities and research, as per the study.

In Asia - China and India are expected to be the fastest-grow­ing nanomedicines markets. The European market is also anticipated to report healthy growth during the forecast period.

Areas of Application

Nanomedicines have proved to be path changing potential in several areas of medical science. Here are some of the key areas where nano­medicines have made commend­able progress:

Cancer: A World Health Organi­zation (WHO) report forecasts 15 million new cases of cancer world­wide in 2020. Over 90 percent of deaths among cancer patients occur due to the spread of malig­nant cells to vital organs. Significant research has been taking place across the globe to develop specific treatments that can destroy primary and secondary tumours. Nanotech­nology has made huge strides in cancer treatments providing a wide range of new tools and possibilities, from earlier diagnostics, improved imaging and targeted therapies.

Research has found that nano­technology can work wonders in targeted drug delivery wherein nanoparticles can be injected into the tumour and then be activated to destroy cancer cells either by mag­netic fields, X-Rays or light. This type of localised delivery of drug can reduce the quantity of drugs absorbed by the patient and de­crease the side effects caused on healthy tissues in the body. Some scientists have achieved this with gold nanorods, which carry chemo­therapy drugs and locally excited in the tumour by infrared light. The induced heat releases the encapsu­lated drug and helps to destroy the cancer cells.

Recently in 2015, a Manches­ter-based team of scientists de­signed microscopic ‘grenades’ that can explode their cancer-killing load into tumours. The team used liposomes, tiny bubbles of fat which carry materials around the body, to release toxic drugs when their tem­perature is raised. The process will avoid side effects by ensuring the drugs target only the tumour.

“This is still early work but these liposomes could be an effective way of targeting treatment towards cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed,” said Professor Charles Swanton, the chairman of the conference.

The Nanomedicine Lab in Man­chester has designed liposomes that are water-tight at normal body temperature but at 42-degree C, they become leaky.

“The challenge for us is to try to develop liposomes in such a way that they will be very stable at 37-degree C and not leak any cancer drug molecules and then abruptly release them at 42-degree C,” said Professor Kostas Kostarelos, Uni­versity of Manchester, in a report.


HIV/AIDS is described as a global pandemic and according to World Health organization, nearly 36.9 million people worldwide lived with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2014 and an estimated 2 million individuals worldwide became newly infected with HIV in 2014.

HIV treatment has several issues such as patient’s compliance with strict drug regimens. HIV mutation leads to resistance to existing ther­apies. HIV resides in various sites throughout the body and estab­lishes reservoirs where it escapes from the effect of drugs and keeps releasing the viral progeny to the blood as long as the patient lives.

Nanomedicines can be extremely helpful in these cases for targeted delivery to HIV reservoir sites be­cause many antiretroviral drugs do not penetrate these sites optimally which contribute not only to viral persistence but also to the devel­opment of drug resistance.

In a recent study, scientists at the University of Nebraska Medical Center designed a new delivery system for protease inhibitors, which are a class of antiviral drugs that are commonly used to treat HIV. The drug, when coupled with URMC-099, another drug devel­oped at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, rid immune cells of HIV and keeps the virus in check for long periods.

The new drug delivery system, called the nanoformulated prote­ase inhibitor, takes the drug and makes it into a crystal. This crystal drug is placed into a fat and protein coat. The coating protects the drug from being degraded by the liver and removed by the kidney. The drug could be given once every six months, which would greatly increase compliance, reduce side effects and help people manage the disease.

“The chemical marriage between URMC-099 and antiretroviral drug nanoformulations could increase drug longevity, improve patient compliance, and reduce general toxicities,” said Howard Gendel­man, lead study author and pro­fessor and chair of the department of pharmacology and experimental neuroscience at Nebraska.

There are several researches taking place across the globe in this area. Although nanomedicines have promising future of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, there are several hurdles in this technology such as toxicity, unwanted biolog­ical interactions and difficulty and cost of large-scale synthesis of nanopharmaceuticals.

Cardiovascular diseases

Research in the use of nanotech­nology in cardiovascular diseases has focused on directed imaging and therapy of atherosclerosis, restenosis and over cardiovas­cular conditions. With the help of nanoscale contrast agents, it is possible to identify and characterise early disease stages prior to the development of gross disease man­ifestations, which can be detected by conventional clinical imaging techniques.

Various nanotechnological ap­plications are coming up for the treatment of atherosclerosis and restenosis, including nanocarriers for drug delivery and devices such as mechanical stents, possessing nanoscale components.

Apart from this, a lot of research is happening to apply nanotech­nologies for ex-vivo and in-vivo detection of precursor CVD signals, which can potentially reduce the risk of the diseases.

Scopes of Nanomedicine

The gamut of science has expand­ed so vast that there is no idea that is impossible to be achieved. Research across the globe is working towards making the most out of nanotechnogy and nanomed­icines. Here are some astonishing areas where researchers are trying to crack the code and change the course of traditional medical proce­dures:

  • Nanomachines could be em­ployed to constantly monitor the internal chemistry of the body. Mobile nanorobots, equipped with wireless transmitters, could circulate in the blood and lymph systems, and send out warnings when chemical imbalances occur.
  • Nanomachines could be planted in the nervous system to monitor pulse, brain-wave activity, and other functions and assist in the treatment of brain and nervous disorders.
  • Nanotechnology devices could dispense drugs or hormones as needed in people with chronic imbalance or deficiency states.
  • Artificial antibodies, artificial white and red blood cells, and antiviral nanorobots might be devised.
  • Nanorobots can be used as miniature surgeons to repair damaged cells, or get inside cells and replace or assist damaged intracellular structures.
  • Nanomachines can be used to correct genetic deficiencies by altering or replacing DNA mole­cules.

The scopes are limitless and as research advances, there will be in­numerable ways in which nanotech­nology will cure the most incurable diseases in the future.

© Chemical Today Magazine


See the Story Coverage in Chemical Today magazine (Pg 61)



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