Nanotechnology is a field in which scientists manipulate the physical structures and properties of matter at the nanoscale. Often, this involves working in dimensions that are many times smaller than a human hair. Re-designing compounds at the molecular level could result in limitless applications in almost every field, and medical science is no exception. Of particular interest to pharmaceutical research and development firms is nanotechnology’s potential to improve drug delivery by changing the ways in which drugs are absorbed by the body, or by changing how an invading virus or bacteria is destroyed. Nanotechnological treatment for cancer is also in the foreground for researchers. Present methods of cancer treatment (such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy) take heavy tolls on the body: hair loss, a weakened immune system, excessive weight loss, higher risk of secondary infection, etc. At the nanoscale, “smarter” drugs improved by nanotechnology will potentially stand a much better chance at differentiating between healthy cells and cancer cells. Harmful effects on the body can then be reduced, which would award patients a much higher quality of life during cancer treatment as well as boost their chances at long-term survival.
There are, as with any new branch of science, potential risks to patients, but careful research and adequate funding will minimize negative impact on the field. Medical scientists presently face three primary nanotechnological challenges: 1) the difficulty of the science itself, which necessitates rapid innovation in order to produce repeatable, sustainable results, 2) the cost of nanotechnology, which requires funding from both public and private sectors to produce nanotechnology at affordable prices for both healthcare providers and patients, and 3) public opinion on nanotechnology, which has periodically wavered in the face of sensationalist journalism. Long-term effects of these compounds are still unknown, and will remain so for several more years. The same is true for nanomachines, which could have enormous ramifications on heart surgery (bypasses, angioplasties, etc.) and the regeneration of nerve cells in the human body. Like other forms of nanotechnology, nanomachines will be able to assist in more effective methods of drug delivery.
Ultimately, the aim of nanotechnology in medical science is to treat patients in the most effective ways possible while minimizing cost and the possibility of harm. The future of safe, affordable nanotechnology rests on continued funding, as well as a general public educated in its risks and benefits. Like the Affordable Care Act of 2010, which prompts the public to become more invested in their healthcare by investigating several different package options, nanotechnology requires a commitment by the public to ensure its continued development.