Nanotechnology in medicine
Nanotechnology is manipulation of matter conducted on the nanoscale, which is at the level of atoms and molecules. It has shown great benefit across a range of industries, from manufacturing to food production. There is also an increasing presence of nanotechnology in medicine, where it offers particularly exciting possibilities and has the potential to revolutionize the way diseases and disorders are diagnosed and treated1.
The use of nanotechnology in the development of drug delivery systems has been particularly well explored. Nanoparticles have been used to reduce the toxicity of cancer treatments by specifically delivering chemotherapy agents or heat to target cells types. This ensures that the cytotoxic effects are localised to the tumour, and so are not widely detrimental to healthy tissue and fewer side effects are experienced.
Nanoparticles are also used as diagnostic imaging agents. For example, magnetic nanoparticles such as Gd3+, Mn2+, Fe3+ act as contrast agents for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The addition of paramagnetic cations (usually iron for minimal toxicity) to a drug delivery system thus allows drug distribution to be visualised non-invasively.
The incorporation of diagnostic and therapeutic functions in a single nanoparticle is known as theranostics2. This integrated approach holds great potential for personalized medicine as drug availability at the target site can be monitored for each individual patient and the dose adjusted to achieve optimal efficacy.
Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) are promising new candidates for targeted drug delivery as they have good biocompatibility and biodegradability whilst having a high capacity for carrying drug. Furthermore, they offer the potential for controlling drug release profiles through the choice of functional group used for the linker and by adjusting the pore size. In addition, the ion core of MOFs serves as a contrast agent for MRI making them potential agents for theranostics3.
The development of theranostics has been focussed largely on cancer therapies, but there is a wide range of other indications that could benefit from targeted and traceable drug delivery. In particular, delivery of sufficient antibiotic to infected areas of the lung is critical for effective treatment of tuberculosis (TB).