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Really Small Technology Makes Big Difference in Medicine
Think small. No smaller.
Nanometers are really, really small - so small that the width of a human hair is about 80,000 nanometers.
Using nanoscale particles to improve human health is a goal of Mauro Ferrari, Ph.D., professor and director of nanotechnology at The Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases. He also is chairman of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston and the UT Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston.
Speaking at the Nov. 8 President's Executive Luncheon, Ferrari said, "My expectation is that nanotechnology will revolutionize medicine."
One of the areas that nanotechnology can help with is early detection of diseases. In cancer and cardiovascular disease, for example, the earlier you detect the disease the easier it is to treat.
By the time you pick up a cancer from conventional technology such as a mammogram, the cancer already has existed for several years. Using nanotechnology, "we can find ways to pick up early signs of disease from biological fluids, such as the bloodstream," said Ferrari, who is president of the Alliance for NanoHealth-Houston.
"Suppose you have every indication that there is something amiss in the molecular composition of the blood. Then you want to go in and find out where it is and exactly what it is," he said.
Injecting certain types of nanoparticles that seek out or react with the molecules of interest "can increase the precision with which imaging can identify where a cancer is, how big it is and its molecular makeup," said Ferrari, who also is professor of experimental therapeutics at the UT M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. Since the molecular makeup of each cancer lesion is different, identifying the molecular target is very important for personalizing and increasing the effectiveness of the therapy.
Nanotechnology can be useful not only in the identification of the target, but also in the delivery of therapy. Using "very exquisite engineering," he said, drugs can be packed inside nanoparticles so that they concentrate at the target. Specificity and localization can deliver more of the drug where it is needed with fewer unwanted side effects.
His team also is developing nanoscale implantable devices for the long-term controlled release of drugs - "the notion of bringing the hospital inside of the patient instead of bringing the patient to the hospital."
By Ina Fried, Institutional Advancement
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