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A Snapshot of Nanotechnology – National Cancer Institute

Posted: September 8, 2016 at 3:25 am

What Is Nanotechnology?

A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, and nanotechnology is the creation of materials, devices, and systems on this minuscule scale. This technology is being applied to almost every field imaginable, including electronics, magnetics, optics, information technology, materials development, and biomedicine. Because of their small size, nanoscale materials and devices can interact readily with biomolecules both on the surface of cells and inside them. As a result, such materials and devices have the potential to detect disease and deliver treatment in ways unimagined before now.

Nanoscale devices are 10010,000 times smaller than human cells. For reference, the head of a pin is about 1 million nanometers across. A human hair is about 80,000 nanometers in diameter, while a DNA molecule is between 2 and 12 nanometers wide.

Nanotechnology has many potentialuses in cancer research. In particular, this technology can facilitate research and improve molecular imaging, early detection, prevention, and treatment of cancer.

Facilitating research: Nanotechnology offers a range of tools that can be used to monitor individual cells and track the movements of cellsand even of individual moleculesin their environment. Such tools will enable researchers to study, monitor, and manipulate the multiple systems that go awry in the cancer process.

Molecular imaging and early detection: Nanotechnology has the potential to help clinicians spot cancer in its earliest stages. Detection of biomarkers using nanotechnology may allow doctors to see cells and molecules that are undetectable through conventional imaging. In addition, photoluminescent nanoparticles may allow oncologists to visually discriminate between cancerous and healthy cells.

Prevention and control: Advances driven by NCIs initiatives in proteomics and bioinformatics will enable researchers to identify markers of cancer susceptibility and precancerous lesions.

Nanotechnology can then be used to develop devices that indicate when those markers appear in the body and that deliver agents to reverse premalignant changes or to kill those cells that have the potential to become malignant.

Therapeutics: Because of their diverse capabilities, nanoscale devices can contain both targeting and therapeutic agents to produce high levels of a given anticancer drug at the tumor site. High local levels of an anticancer drug have the potential to increase the chemotherapeutic efficacy against cancer and achieve greater tumor reduction with lower doses of the drug. Nanoscale devices also offer the opportunity to develop new approaches to therapy, to combine a diagnostic or imaging agent with a drug, and to determine whether the drug acts on its intended target. “Smart” nanotherapeutics may provide clinicians the ability to “time” the release of an anticancer drug or to deliver multiple drugs sequentially in a timed manner or at several locations in the body.

The Understanding Nanodevices slide presentation is a graphic-rich nanotechnology tutorial for educational use by life science teachers, medical professionals, and the interested public.

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A Snapshot of Nanotechnology – National Cancer Institute

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