Nanotechnology was earlier thought of having good things in store only for the technology sector; however, it has spread its wings to work its charm in other sectors also, most notably healthcare, through introduction of nanomedicines. So, how have they exactly changed the face of this critical sector?
The global population has become an easy target for a number of diseases, many of them being life-threatening. Cancer has been a major cause of mortality in the past many years, with 14 million new cases being observed in 2012 and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths. This number rose steadily to 17 million new cases in 2018, with 9.6 million deaths. Not only cancer, CVD, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases have become very pronounced among the general population. That is why there is a growing requirement for drastic improvements in the current levels of disease treatment, and there has been a paradigm shift in the realm of disease management towards nanotechnology-based solutions.
Nanomedicine is the application of nanotechnology in the medical field. The shift in disease management is mainly due to the versatility of products offered by this technology as they have potential applications into various aspects of disease prevention and treatment such as drug delivery systems, imaging techniques, and diagnostic tests.
Development of nano-medical devices including quantum dots, nanoparticles, nano-shells, and nanotubes are anticipated to provide the healthcare industry with a wide range of innovative solutions for targeted therapeutic delivery and diagnostic capability going down to a molecular level in real time. Nanomedicine involves the medical application of nanomaterials and biological devices, as well as those of nano-electric biosensors, along with future molecular nanotechnology applications.
Nanomedicine products: Typology
Majority of the commercial applications of nanotechnology in medicines are geared towards the therapeutics and drug delivery systems. Nanomedicine is a critical enabling instrument for personalized, targeted and regenerative medicine to deliver next level treatment to patients. With the rise in geriatric population, the nanomedicine market is expected to play an important role in dealing with the challenges that the demographic brings, while also helping in making treatments and medicines affordable to all.
In recent years, metallic nanoparticles have received significant attention for usage in in-vivo imaging. Nanoparticles are effective, in that they help in increasing the penetration of drugs in active microbial infection sites, while also acting as drug carrier to reduce its side effects. Some of the important ones are:
Polymeric nanoparticles – These are made from natural or artificial biocompatible and biodegradable polymers. As opposed to conventional drug formulations, these nanoparticles can increase drug solubility, helping in reducing therapeutic dose. They can be designed as nanospheres and nano-capsules.
Liposomes – They are found to have decreased the side-effects of anticancer and antifungal drugs, among others. These nanoparticles are spherical small-sized vesicles, which have hydrophilic substances encapsulated in an aqueous compartment, while lipophilic substances are incorporated in lipid bilayers.
Metallic nanoparticles – These are made out of metals such as gold, silver and iron oxide, among others, and have excellent electronic and optical properties. They can carry large doses of drugs, and increase their circulatory half-life. Their size ranges from 1 to 100 nanometers.
Dendrimers – These are synthetic polymers with repetitively branched molecules. They have high stability and a large surface area, and this has made them very desirable in the biomedical field.
Some of the novel applications that are under R&D for nanomedicines include nanostructures for transportation of therapeutic substances across biological barriers, scaffolds for tissue replacement, remote control of nanoprobes, and integrated implantable sensory nano-electronic systems.
Nanotechnologies: Future in healthcare
Nanomedicine has always been the apple of the eyes of the healthcare sector, with the seventh EU research program framework allotting almost €430 million in 84 such projects focusing on preclinical research, and involving around 1000 laboratories.
Nanotech-based treatments, as already mentioned, avoid side-effects that are associated with conventional medicines, and this has shown great promise in the treatment of certain types of cancer, specifically the chemotherapy phase. Another promising application area is improving the effectiveness of biologics that have poor bioavailability, such as insulin, whose efficacy and accuracy can be improved by packaging it in hollow nanoparticles.
The small size of nanoparticles has made them ideal candidates for imaging applications by acting as contrast agents. This helps in the easier identification of abnormalities such as damaged tissues or tumors. This, naturally, helps in improving the accuracy of the surgical process. Another area where nanoparticles are attracting attention is acting as a highlighter for understanding the distribution and metabolization of a drug, as nanotechnology makes use of quantum dots that act as luminescent tags.
Drug resistance in case of antibacterial treatments is another area where nanomedicines can help shine a light, such as nanozymes, which are able to mimic major antioxidant enzymes and can help in combating infectious diseases as well as degenerative ones. Besides this, nanomedicines are also being looked towards for addressing wound treatments.
Metal nanoparticles in disease management
Among the wide range of nanoparticles, metallic nanoparticles have been recognized as attractive vehicles for the target-specific gene-silencing moieties and drug delivery in management of diseases such as cancer. In particular, gold nanoparticles hold great promise in cancer research and AIDS treatment. They are well-absorbed in soft tumor tissues, thus making the tumor susceptible to radiation-based heat therapy for selective elimination. Other commercially available metallic nanoparticles-based solutions/tools are based on zinc oxide, silver oxide, iron oxide, copper oxide, and aluminum oxide nanoparticles. The nanomedicine sector stands to progress greatly due to them.
Major industry players include Combimatrix Corp, Ablynx NV, Abraxis Bioscience Inc., Celgene Corporation, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, Arrowhead Research, GE Healthcare, Merck & Co. Inc., Pfizer Inc., and Nanosphere, Inc. They are involved in continuous R&D in this field, as well as various acquisitions and partnerships.
Some of the notable recent developments include:
In December 2019, UK-based MR Solutions participated in the first nanomedicine joint annual meeting by presenting a simultaneous 7T PET/MRI preclinical imaging system, which has been optimized for nanoparticle imaging. The system makes use of dry magnet or liquid-helium free technology, which helps in multi-modality imaging.
The Houston Methodist Research Institute has created The Centre for Space Nanomedicine, which tied up with Lamborghini, manufacturer of carbon fiber materials for the Department of Nanomedicine, to bring out an implant that can be used to treat cancer, diabetes, as well as other chronic diseases.
In September 2019, researchers at Finland’s University of Helsinki, in partnership with the Åbo Akademi University and China’s Huazhong University of Science and Technology developed an anti-cancer nanomedicine useful for targeted cancer chemotherapy.
In August 2019, Northwestern University researchers developed a technique to track the interaction of nanoparticles with cancer cells, and whether they are able to reach their targets. The discovery would potentially help in developing effective nanomedicine cancer therapies through screening of different formulations on the basis of size, shape and charge.
In March 2018, National Cancer Institute researchers stated that were successful in effectively delivering a next-gen nanomedicine to mice with metastatic thyroid cancers and pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNETs). It is a collaboration between Dr. David Kingston of the University of Virginia & CytImmune Sciences, Inc.
In-depth report on global nanomedicine market by Grand View Research:
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