A surgeon operates to remove the tumor, but a few cancer cells remain, hiding in the body. Chemotherapy is administered, weakening both patient and cancer cells.
“Because of their small size, engineered nanomaterials have unique properties that do not exist at the larger scale: increased surface area, charge, reactivity and other physicochemical properties, all of which may affect how nanomaterials interact with biological entities, like cells,” says Sara Brenner, assistant professor of nanobioscience at SUNY Polytechnic Institute.
As research into using nanoparticles advances, scientists hope to be able to not just turn off specific signals in cells, but also eventually insert genes to correct for defects and cure more complex diseases.
Called gene therapy, it would involve inserting larger fragments of DNA into cells that have faulty DNA. For example, cystic fibrosis is caused by a defective gene called CFTR. If scientists can figure out a way to get a non-defective copy of the gene into the cells and correct it, they could cure the disease.
While nanotechnology has the potential to revolutionize medicine and how we view treatment of diseases, there are still kinks to work out.
Some of the challenges with nanotechnology include how to get nanoparticles into the right cells and tissues, and how to get them into the cells safely without the nanoparticles degrading.