[Solved ] What do you understand by nanotechnology and how is it helping in health sector? (UPSC GS-3 Mains 2020)

Nanotechnology concentrates on the administration and fabrication of materials in a bottom-up approach. Applying principles often mimicking the processes of nature, we are gradually becoming capable of building highly organized molecules, that have very specific properties.

  • The charming side of nanotechnology is that it integrates physics, biology, and chemistry and needs open minds by researchers and technology developers in this field.
  • Adopting the principle of DNA copying in a cell to develop quick calculations is not a straightforward application, but is proving to be very efficient for IT.
  • Nanotechnology, the study of the minuscule things,  holds huge potential for medical services, from conveying drugs all the more adequately, diagnosing illnesses all the more quickly and delicately, and conveying immunizations through mist concentrates and fixes.
  How does nanotechnology improve health care? Nanotechnology is now leading to dramatic improvements in health care. Scientists are using nanoparticles to target tumors, in drug delivery systems, and to improve medical imaging.Some nanoparticle-based treatments are multi-functional; they can both find tumors and carry drugs for treatment. Nanotechnology is also being used to cut the cost and increase the speed of DNA sequencing and to provide scaffolding for tissue regeneration or wound treatment.
    How  does the safety of nanomaterials being investigated? Rational development of nanotechnology, including understanding the potential impacts of nanomaterials on the environment and our health, is one of four goals of the National Nanotechnology Initiative.   Scientists are examining the effects of nanomaterials on animal cells and tissues, as well as in plants like soybeans.   They are also creating guidelines to make sure we can all safely benefit from nanotechnology.

Applications of Nanotechnology in the Health Sector

  • Effective Drug Delivery: One application of nanotechnology in medicine currently being developed involves employing nanoparticles to deliver drugs, heat, light, or other substances to specific types of cells.

  • For example, a team of scientists has created a nanomicelle that can be used for effective drug delivery to treat various cancers including breast, colon, and lung cancer.
  • Diagnostic Techniques: Research in Nanotech is being done for using antibodies attached to carbon nanotubes in chips to detect cancer cells in the bloodstream.
  • Antibacterial Treatments: Researchers at the University of Houston are developing a technique to kill bacteria using gold nanoparticles and infrared light. This method may provide a possible solution od the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.
  • Cell Repair: Nanotech research involves the use of manufactured nano-robots to make repairs at the cellular level.

  • Nanorobots could actually be programmed to repair specific diseased cells, functioning in a similar way to antibodies in our natural healing processes.
  • Importance of Targeted Delivery:

    • The goal for cancer therapy is destroying the cancer cells without harming healthy cells of the body.
    • Chemotherapeutics approved for treatment of cancer are highly toxic with various side effects.
    • Thus the need arises for effective targeted drug delivery.
  • Other Uses of Nanotechnology in Health Care:

    • Nanotech detectors for heart attack.
    • Nanochips to check plaque in arteries.
    • Nanocarriers for eye surgery, chemotherapy etc.
    • Diabetic pads for regulating blood sugar levels.
    • Nanoparticles for drug delivery to the brain for therapeutic treatment of neurological disorders.
    • Nanosponges are polymer nanoparticles coated with a red blood cell membrane, and can be used for absorbing toxins and removing them from the bloodstream.
    • NanoFlares are used for detection of cancer cells in the bloodstream.
    • Nanopores are used in making DNA sequencing more efficient.

Nanotechnology and Healthcare: Opportunities

Personalized medicine is key to all aspects about the future of health care and many developments in science and industry are seeking to make this happen. The vision here is that a personal diagnosis can be complemented with a personalized treatment using customized minimal invasive surgery or medication targeted and tailored to the specific needs of a particular patient.

Regenerative Medicine

Regenerative medicine  include smart biomaterials on the one hand, and on the other nanotechnology enabling cell-based therapies and tissue growth. The imminent growth of this field is explained by the need for “repair and enhancement” of cells and tissue in a rapidly aging population. With the emergence of stem cell therapy a decade ago, this field is expected to grow into a more mature phase where rapid and customized production is likely to be commonplace within a decade from now.

Biosensors

Biosensors is another sector  that is rapidly changing due to inputs from nanotechnology sensors and has relevance for several other major areas such as in vivo and in vitro diagnostics. At the moment nanotechnology has an enormous effect on the speed and specificity of determinations of biomarkers in body fluids.

Although  primary  progress has been made in the genomics area using PCR and microarray- technology, it is expected that in the years to come, the analysis of proteins (proteomics) will receive an enormous boost. Proteomics and genomics will then be equal and complimentary tools to detect the risk for and status of biological adverse effects, which lead to diseases.

Drug Delivery

Drug delivery aiding  smart materials and nanoparticles is a research area that may help to restore the continuously decreasing output of new drugs by pharmaceutical companies, and help to improve the efficacy of existing drugs and revitalize drop-out drugs since local delivery may eliminate earlier systemic side effects. Smart drugs, that consist of assemblies of carrying agents (nanoparticles), imaging devices and drugs are being developed to target affected tissues and at the same time monitor the process.

Recent Use of Nanotechnology:

Antiviral nano coating on face masks and Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) kits.

Risks of Nanotechnology:

Since this field is still at its nascent stage, the likely risks are contentious.

The regulatory authorities like the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Health and Consumer Protection Directorate of the European Commission have started assessing the potential risks posed by the nanoparticles.

Nano pollution is the generic term that is used to describe the waste generated by the nanodevices or nanomaterials during the manufacturing process.

Governmental Initiatives to Promote Nanotechnology

Nano Science and Technology Mission (NSTM):

NSTM, launched in 2007, is an umbrella programme that aims to promote research and development in nanotechnology. The objectives include the promotion of research, infrastructure development to support the research, development of nanotechnology, human resources, and international collaborations.

Nano Science and Technology Initiative (NSTI):

It was set up by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in 2001 to focus on issues related to infrastructure development, research and application programmes related to nanomaterials including drugs, drug delivery, gene targeting and DNA chips.

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