You take a medicine orally for a specific ailment. A lot of it will get distributed to places within the body where it is unwanted leading to toxicity and other side effects. Now, if there is a mechanism to improve the efficiency of the drug delivery then there will be an overall reduction in the dose administered. Nanotechnology offers a solution to this problem. It holds a great potential for better healthcare by introducing the way for more efficient drug usage, thus bringing down the cost of healthcare substantially.
Present research in the application of nanotechnology in biomedical sciences at the Centre for Research in Nanotechnology and Science at Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, promises huge hopes to people suffering from cancer, heart diseases, tuberculosis, respiratory distress syndrome and arthritis. From early detection of heart disease to designing nanoparticles as carriers of drugs to improve the efficacy of drug administration; from embedding smart sensors in human body to monitor vital analysts to developing nanoparticles of biological origin to overcome several anatomical barriers including the ‘blood brain barrier’; there is huge potential of nanotechnology to treat diseases.
Rinti Banerjee, professor of biomedical engineering at IIT Bombay and a member of CRNTS, is heading a group of researchers who are exploring a wide range of possibilities in using nanotechnology to address diseases like cancer, pneumonia, TB, arthritis. Banerjee and her team are developing nanoparticles for each of these diseases.
“We have developed nanoparticle which are given in the form of aerosols for respiratory distress syndrome. These aerosols are capable of reaching deeper parts of lungs,” said Banerjee.
The group has made significant investigations and development in the anti-cancer area. “Lots of works are on in lung cancer and colon cancer,” she said. According to Banerjee, in the case of cancer, most drugs have substantial toxic effects. So nanotech can allow the drug to go specifically to the cancer site.
It was the concept of tattooing that inspired Rohit Srivastava, assistant professor at IIT Bombay, to look at nanoscale sensors and actuators to monitor human body and cure all its ills. His work will involve integrating nanotechnology with tissue engineering and biosensing and can be easily extended to monitoring the effects of drugs, especially the release of immunomodulating agents.
Recently scientific journal Nature reported about US researchers developing a tiny nanoparticle robot that can travel through a patient’s blood and into tumours where they deliver therapy that turns off an important cancer gene. Scientists believe that it is an early proof that a new treatment approach called RNA (ribonucleic acid) interference or RNAi might work in people. Dozens of biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms are looking for ways to manipulate RNA to block genes that make disease-causing proteins involved in cancer or AIDS.
There is also hope for osteoarthritis patients. The research is on to develop nano-sized smart materials that, when injected, would support tissue regeneration.
According to her, there are also efforts to look at things, which will go through the skin. Like a patch on the surface of the skin, which is loaded with nanoparticles and that can penetrate through the layers of the skin and then go into the tissue. For joints, you can directly place it on the surface of the joint.
While Banerjee confirmed that some of the technologies are being transferred to industry, she declined to give details on account of confidentiality clauses. “I would be optimistic about the anticancer nanoparticles for lung cancer and colon cancer,” she added.
There are also new inventions supported by nanotechnology in diagnostic tools. V Ramgopal Rao from the department of electrical engineering in IIT Bombay has created a cardiac diagnostic kit using nanotechnology for early detection of myocardial infarction from a drop of your blood. Called ‘iSens’, it comprises a tabletop box and a disposable slide with fields that changes colour depending on the condition of the heart.
“ECG is the most common way to find the health of human heart. Early detection of heart attack is possible with this because there are certain elements in blood like protein that needs to be monitored and iSens is capable of doing that,” said Rao. He says nanoelectro mechanical systems identifies nano motions from the blood sample and converts them into electric signals which can be identified from the top box. While it is one more way to diagnose, Rao said the kit will considerably reduce the lab bills and results are quick.
Earlier Rao was part of a team that developed a portable silicon locket, a device for continuous monitoring of the heart. The locket will allow patients at high risk of cardiac arrest to wirelessly monitor the heart. When an irregularity in heartbeat, or arrhythmia occurs, using a mobile phone interface, the locket can automatically transmit through SMS the last few seconds of the ECG data to a central server. Tata Consultancy Services, which funded the research, will market the device.
Nanomedicine based on nanotechnology holds immense scope in diagnosis and treatment of cancer and Parkinsons, according to experts. “The technology could be successfully used to diagnose and treat oral cancer,” said Shanti Nair, director of the Centre for Nano Sciences of the Amrita Viswa Vidya Peetham University in Kochi.