According to researchers in the field, the answer is yes. Biomedical nanotechnology has the potential to vastly improve medical diagnostics in the coming years. UPI Science News reports from New Orleans, where the 225th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society is being held.
Many people think of nanotechnology -- the process of altering or building materials a molecule at a time -- as a way to build microscopic machines. In medicine, it means making tiny particles using either organic or inorganic materials.
If the different kinds of nanotechnology were in a race, biomedicine would be in the lead, said Shuming Nie, director of cancer nanotechnology at Emory University's Winship Cancer Institute, Atlanta.
What does it mean for cancer diagnostics?
Researchers are developing diagnostic tests for cancer and cardiovascular diseases. When a person is sick, markers -- genetic material or proteins -- for the disease appear in body fluids. If blood or urine samples from the sick person are mixed with a solution of synthetic nanostructures, they can be designed to emit light in the presence of specific disease markers, Nie explained.
This kind of test would improve the accuracy of current tests -- which Nie said average about 50 percent -- dramatically. Diagnostics now have the capability to look only for one marker at a time, while new tests based on nanotechnology could detect multiple markers at once, he added.
But what about treatment?
"An interesting direction will be to combine diagnostics with treatment," Nie said. "Treatment will come later because it requires regulations. It might take five to seven years."
The wait and investment could be worth it, however. Nie said he envisions "smart bomb" treatment of cancer. A nanostructure could recognize a cancer cell, bind to it and trigger a release of a therapeutic drug, he explained.
According to the article, other researchers are working on diagnostic tests for Alzheimer's disease.
Source: Christine Suh, UPI Science News, March 27, 2003
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