Who doesn’t know that “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”? Those were the good old days, where a fry-up was nothing bad, smoking considered to be elegant and booze manly unless you got in trouble with the moral majority. However, in those times where Mary Poppins cured our souls there was a downside, too: most people did not get as old as nowadays.
Medicine has advanced since and quietly keeps advancing. And maybe, we will witness the moment when not the nanny but the nano makes us help the medicine go down.
An exciting technology is emerging, offering possibilities as diverse as radiation does and medicine has discovered it, too. Nanotechnology works in dimensions which are hardly imaginable for us – matter no bigger than the size of 400 hydrogen atoms (the smallest atom).
A water molecule needs two hydrogen and one oxygen atom and an unimaginable 1670 trillions of molecules are needed for one drop of water! Currently there are experiments ongoing, docking drug molecules to certain molecular substances, which have the ability to be channeled into certain cells or to overcome the eternal separation of fat and water soluble substances. This way the dose of medication may be reduced greatly, simultaneously achieving higher efficacy and reducing side effects.
Gold particles are smuggled into cancer cells where they explode and kill the cells. Medication bound to nanoparticles may be released when it is needed, improving the control over the timing of drug delivery, the drug even lying dormant in the body until needed. Contrast substances could be placed inside individual cells revolutionizing medical imaging. Specific activities of individual cells could be inhibited or augmented. Broken bones could be healed quickly. The blood sugar level itself could trigger the release of insulin, even days after injecting it. Tissues could be engineered rendering transplants unnecessary and nanoparticles could increase the effiancy of antibiotics and stop allergic reactions.
Even nanorobots are being dreamt of. However, there are considerable difficulties to overcome, e.g. changing positive and negative electric mini-currents in our body to alter the behavior of those particles or the question of toxicity and environmental contamination. Widespread use of those artificial molecular sized particles, also in other areas but medicine, inevitably leads to the problem of accumulation in the body, food chain and environment.