💭 Imagine an object a thousand times smaller than a human cell. Can you? That length scale is called the nanoscale, and things that fall into this category include viruses and nanoparticles. Nanoparticles are particles between 1 and 100 nm, typically displaying properties not found in bulk samples of the same material.
⚛️ Combining different materials in one single nanoparticle allows us to obtain advanced nanoparticles with many valuable properties, one of nanotechnology’s most active research fields.
🏥 The application of nanotechnology in healthcare innovation is called nanomedicine. Nanomedicine includes detection, diagnosis, and treatment of disease in the nanoscale. Concretely, nanoparticles have been successfully applied in vaccines development and cancer diagnosis, therapy, and theranostics (therapy and diagnosis combined):
➟ 𝗩𝗮𝗰𝗰𝗶𝗻𝗲 𝗱𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗹𝗼𝗽𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁: mRNA-based vaccines are nanotechnology-enabled and well-known nowadays due to their recent success in fighting SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. Nanoscale platforms have proven their priceless potential in modern vaccine design, helping to catalyze novel candidate vaccines faster than ever before. The faster development of vaccines is necessary to immunize people against life-threatening viruses.
➟ 𝗖𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲𝗿 𝗱𝗶𝗮𝗴𝗻𝗼𝘀𝗶𝘀: nanoparticles are minuscule objects with many unique properties that allow them to detect individual cancer cells and tumor tissues. In recent years, nanoparticles have been used to image and detect many types of cancers using fluorescence, Raman spectroscopy, terahertz spectroscopy, ultrasounds, and magnetic resonance imaging. Improvements in early cancer detection are crucial to improving the patient’s prognosis.
➟ 𝗖𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲𝗿 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗿𝗮𝗽𝘆: the main applications of nanoparticles to treat cancer cells are high temperatures (hyperthermia), ultrasounds, immunotherapy, and drug delivery. These nanoscale treatments can target specific proteins on the cancer cell surface to ensure only tissue damage close to the tumor.
➟ 𝗖𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲𝗿 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗿𝗮𝗻𝗼𝘀𝘁𝗶𝗰𝘀: nanotechnology-enabled theranostics combines therapy and diagnosis in a single nanoscale platform. Single materials can offer both detection and therapy capabilities, but adding a combination of other materials can lead to many valuable varieties. This is critical to creating all-in-one nanotechnology solutions that are cancer-type agnostic.
There are already today many companies working on nanoparticle-based solutions:
• MagForce AG delivers magnetic nanoparticles containing iron oxide to tumors for highly controlled local heat treatment of aggressive cancers such as glioblastoma.
• AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech develop lipid nanoparticles to deliver mRNA inside a cell and produce protein therapeutics in cells.
Pablo is a JSPS Postdoctoral Fellow working at the University of Tokyo in nanomedicine. He is also the CEO & Founder of XR Dream, a startup working on dream-like virtual reality and augmented reality experiences.