Taking the NanoPulse -- The Nano-Doctor Is In

Take two nanotechnologies and call me in the morning.

Nanotechnology and health. Seems that lately some alarmist pundits would have you believe those two words don't belong in the same sentence. I suggest we take another look into the microscope. Nanotechnology is driving force behind some of the most innovative medical treatments in the pipeline. These breakthroughs will have to make their way to market through the complex maze and under the watchful eyes of the Federal Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and foundations chartered to fight disease. And well they should. Nano-medicine innovations are being poked and probed by some of the best doctors on the planet -- and showing remarkable promise. For some, development may take up to 15 years. Believe me, they're worth watching -- and waiting for. Others are already are already reality. There's good news in diagnostics, treatments and prevention. Let's take a peak in the doctor's bag.

What if we could stop treating a genetic disease, and simply "turning off" the offending gene? That's the potential of nanotechnology from Copernicus Therapeutics. They've been able to develop DNA nanoparticles that are small enough pass through cell walls. They offer the potential to replace defective genes, enable cells to create their own therapeutic substances or "turn off" the problem genes. This technology has moved far beyond theory. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Therapeutics, Inc., a non-profit affiliate of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation has awarded funding based on results in an animal model.

Nanotechnology is making inroads in medical devices, too. No, we're not talking about nano-bots coursing through the bloodstream -- at least not yet. A company called Nanomimetics is working on nano-coatings that make full-size devices -- like artificial hips or pacemakers -- more compatible with the human body. Less irritation, less infection, less rejection. More healthy results.

Maybe those coatings will end up on a tiny wireless apparatus that aids in cancer treatment. The device, the work of researchers from University of Texas and tested at Purdue's Birck Nanotechnology Center, would be injected into a tumor to precisely measure the amount of radiation it's received , improving understanding of radiation levels and results. The device could also help doctors focus radiation treatment more exactly on tumors.

Nanotechnology may also bring new hope to the treatment of spinal cord injuries. A nanogel developed by researchers at Northwestern University has been shown to create a medium for generation of new spinal cord nerve fibers. Injected directly into the spinal cord, the material is showing promise in testing with mice. There's a long way to go to prove the concept in humans, but imagine the possibilities.

Also on the more distant nano-medicine horizon are MEMS-enabled treatment devices, with significant development in the works in corporatate and university labs. One of the most exciting areas is "medicine on a chip" -- chips with bio-sensors that report health information or carry time-release drugs. There's even work on a nano-pump to deliver insulin to diabetics which is nearly market ready.

And let's finish with a nano-medicine product that's already on the market. The U.S. military was among the first to use a product called Quick-Clot to stop wound hemorrhaging, the leading cause of death for soldiers injured in battle. Now used by first responders and even available to consumers, the product has a granular form and is poured directly on a wound. Part of its successful formulation involves nano-engineered particles that promote extremely rapid natural clotting.

So the test results from our nano-medicine check-up are in. The results suggest we're doing just fine. Maybe we're not quite to "take two nanotechnologies and call me in the morning." But I think you'd have to agree: the future looks pretty healthy.

Scott E. Rickert is chief executive of Nanofilm, Ltd., located in Valley View, Ohio. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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