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Nanotechnology will be used in medicine?

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A leading industry researcher active in Switzerland said that. Nanotechnology is destined to become the future medical development idea for the treatment of diseases such as cancer. How far can the development of this technology go? And how close will it be to the scene of science fiction?

For some, the word “nano” evokes their imagination of mysterious scenes in science fiction. In fact, the nano science refers to the technology of manipulating particles on the scale of “nanometers” and molecules. Cornelia Palivan, a professor of physical chemistry at the University of Basel and a member of the Basel Institute for Nanotechnology in Switzerland. Said the technology gives us hope rather than fear.

In your opinion, nano products implanted in the human body. As we see in science fiction films, can control and manipulate a person in some way, Is this assumption credible?

Cornelia Cornelia Palivan: I don’t think it’s credible that such a scene is a hundred and eighteen thousand miles away from reality. The so-called “nanobots” currently exist only in science fiction as an eye-catching gimmick. But it has to be said that such things are still surreal. One can at most think of the dangers of engineered nanoparticles containing toxic substances. Or reflect on the biochemical weapons that the government is developing that contain deadly, dangerous sources. But in this topic, we are talking about toxicity, which has nothing to do with the size of the particles.

nanotechnology

The label “nano” does not define the quality of a technology. But it defines a way to solve problems in the dimension of particles. So, this approach can be extremely useful, especially in medicine.
So what is the use of nanotechnology in today’s world?

Current working on Nano technology

Currently, together with our teams. We are working on the implementation of nanotechnology in various fields. From medicine to ecology to food science. We do this primarily by developing so-called “biological hybrid substances”. Which are produced by combining biological macromolecules. Such as proteins and enzymes, with very small amounts of synthetic substances. The substances we are talking about are some nano- or micron-sized capsules. With a radius of no more than 100 nanometers. We try to encapsulate biomolecules such as enzymes in them. Once these capsules are absorbed by the body, the components contained in them can function.

One of the challenges facing current medicine is that the biological macromolecules contained in drugs lose their potency in a short period of time. With biological hybrids, such as our nano capsules. There is hope to preserve the full function of proteins and enzymes and ensure that they function as intended.

Is nanomedicine more effective than traditional medicine?

Yes, but it’s not just a question of validity. In medicine, the biggest challenge facing us today is how to make drugs safer while reducing side effects.

Nowadays, anyone can go to the pharmacy and buy pills of different colors to treat different diseases. But the question is. What’s inside these pills? With our vision, the doctor of the future will not only prescribe the drug to the patient. But also ensure that the drug works in the exact site and do not have side effects to other parts of the body. And that’s exactly what each of us needs to get when we go to the pharmacy. From this perspective, nanotechnology can be useful because it can help us to have a “clear division of labor” for these vectors.

Developing nanotechnology means trying to replicate natural substances as a way to determine what specific proteins do within cells and replace them when they are missing due to disease. If you adopt the traditional solution of introducing powdered molecules to replace the missing protein, as with most drugs, in some cases, there is a risk that the substance will not be able to enter the cell because they are too large to be accurately absorbed.

A well-known example is vaccines based on Messenger RNA technology [such as vaccines against the Covid-19 virus]: ribonucleic acid, in which RNA molecules are encapsulated into nanoparticles that act as carriers. These carriers protect the potency molecules and transport them where they are needed. Through a clear division of labor in chemistry, these nanoparticles will be more easily absorbed by cells.

Given that nanotechnology is a new technology, are there any risks associated with it?

Of course there are. But it is difficult to define exactly which risks are, as it takes several years of testing and clinical results to fully assess the risks of this technology. Therefore, it is normal for people to have doubts about new technologies. For example, in the case of vaccines against Covid-19, we know they are effective, but we only know the short-term effect, and we don’t know what the long-term effect is, because no one has the opportunity to study it in depth for a long time, after all, the epidemic also appeared a year and a half ago. Therefore, doubts about long-term risks can only be answered through scientific research.


However, I would like to say one very important thing. A drug and of course the carrier of the drug, needs to go through years of research, experimentation, and investigation before it is marketed, even if it has to face multiple failed test results. This can be a frustrating process, as soon as one-step fails, then you have to start over. But this is inevitable because the human body is a very complex system. The same is true of nanotechnology: no matter how attractive the proposed solution is, it will be rejected if it fails to pass all stages of testing.

In which areas can nanotechnology make a difference in the future?

In the field of medicine, the first is in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Nanoparticles, known as contrast agents, can be very useful for identifying tumors in specific areas of the body, or for monitoring the direction of tumor cells. In addition, nanotechnology has greatly promoted the individualization of medicine, with the development of precision medicine, which is essential for the treatment of cancer. This is the only possible future [in the therapeutic field], and in this sense, nanoscience is the only solution because it allows people to design vectors with different divisions of labor on the molecular dimension to attack specific antibodies. That’s why we can think of nanotechnology as the “medicine” of the future.

In other areas, nanotechnology can also be used in ecological cases, such as to solve the problem of water purification. Nanoparticles contain proteins that can fight pollutants, and then put such nanoparticles into water, the water source can be purified. The same nanoparticles can also be used in the food industry to detect food quality and monitor food spoilage.

Who can afford these “future medicine” approaches?

It is true that the cost will be high, certainly not affordable for everyone, but I do not see a solution to this problem for the time being. Keeping prices high is good for companies developing nanotechnology, and for profit reasons, they keep patents on that technology as long as possible. From this point of view, this problem cannot be solved for the time being.

Does this mean that in the future only a subset of people, the wealthier ones, will be able to afford to be treated for serious diseases such as cancer?

Unfortunately, this is indeed the case if the cost of treatment is not reduced. I want to envision the future more optimistically, but I haven’t seen any prospects yet. What is needed now is a political vision and concerted efforts at the international level. It is not enough for individual countries, such as Switzerland or France, to take initiatives.

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Have you ever imagined a future where nanotechnology could be used to extend human life?

In this regard, a series of experiments are underway, but they are also facing many difficulties. Because the human body is a very complex, wonderful, incredible existence.

In addition, there are two major challenges to be overcome: one is to extend life expectancy, and the other is to improve the quality of life. We have seen that as the average human life expectancy increases, so do the number of cases of neurodegenerative diseases. From this point of view, it is more important to live in a healthy state for as long as possible as simply to live longer.

Together with my group members, I am working on “artificial organelles.” Organelles, like mitochondria, are essential cellular structures for life. Through the development of artificial organelles, we hope to be able to try to replicate natural organs and cell bodies in a way that makes artificial organelles stronger by synthesizing substances. This technology will be very promising in the future to support the development of life sciences-based technologies.

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