Nanoscience Holds Promise For Multiple Applications
17 Jan, 2007 05:03 pm
Dr. Omid Farokhzad is an attending anthesiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. His research interests include pain medicine and cancer nanotechnology. He responds to our questions about the promise and potential of nanoscience in medical applications.
I think that if you look at nanotechnology, it has impacted virtually every discipline and industry. The area which I’m working in, life science, a tremendous amount of promise exists for nanotechnology. In fact, nanotechnology today has had a substantial impact in the field which is a nanofield system imaging application. So life science certainly is one of those areas where we’re going to see a tremendous amount of growth; we’re in a sharp incline, during the development discovery phase. I say that as the field matures, over say the next 10-20 or 30 years, there’s going to be a substantial number of novel platforms that are going to basically have a huge impact on the way medicine is practiced today.
What are carbon nanotubes and their functions? How do you see their roles and uses changing in the future?
Carbon nanotubes, similar to nanotechnology in general, impact many areas and not just medicine. But within medicine they have a lot of potential for diagnosis and also therapeutic applications, for example, carbon nanotubes can be used as electrical conduits to design a diagnostic system, whereby you can detect very small amount of an amylate that may be present. A typical amylate, for example, that a physician may be interested in, may be a small amount in circulation, that marks the existence of a disease—like cancer for example. So you can develop miniaturized diagnostic modalities that can in a very prevalent way detect any number of these amylates that can let a physician know the health status of a patient. Carbon nanotubes on the other hand can be used for therapeutic purposes; they can be used to deliver drugs and they can do combination therapy, they can do a combination of therapeutic and diagnostic, so their potential as a platform holds a lot of promise.
Could you explain some more possibilities we might expect from nanobiology, in terms of medical applications?
As we look back, then look forward, to see where we are today, it gives us a very good perspective. If we look back at where nanotechnology was and ask, “What was it?” [We’ll see] first of all there’s a lot of enthusiasm and excitement over nanotechnology today. I share that sentiment as well, but I think it’s hard to comment that the field, or the application of nanotechnology to really dates back several decades. The first example of drug delivery system that resembles one of nanotechnology platforms for drug delivery dates back to mid 1960 and it wasn’t until the 70s and 80s or really the 80s where things like nanoparticles begin getting developed at any sort of reasonable level so nanotechnology has been around. The reason for the very recent excitement, and I think people initially called it hype, but actually we now say that this is not a hype—to use the wordy “hype” in itself is a hype—so there was a tremendous amount of resources being allocated to nanotechnology. If you look at the amount of patent applications for the past five years that relate to the field of nanotechnology, it exploded. If you look at government agencies putting funding into nanotechnology, the National Institute of Health in the US, for example, allocated 144 million in 2004; the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute (NHBLI) allocated 54 million is 2005, so there’s a tremendous amount of resources that are being channeled into nanotechnology both from academic and industry sides and what that means is additional money for research. Therefore, additional opportunities for discovery and so the very rapid adaptation of the term nanotechnology by just about anyone, I think in the last survey, I saw some 25% of the people knew what nanotechnology was. To me that’s a phenomenal number of individuals to know what that means; now, [these individuals] might not necessarily know what it means, but they’ve heard of it and I think that that alone is remarkable. It marks the fact that the area of technology is becoming increasingly understood by people. Now, where is it today? It’s now grown from a sort of theoretical science into a clinical application. There’s about 7 or 8 nanotechnologies ? that are approved and in clinical practice, the one that probably comes to mind is Droxil which was FDA approved and in clinical use in the mid-90s. But then it comes to mid-2005, and you know Abrexim was recently approved which is a nanoparticle albumen system for treatment of metastatic breast cancer. Then if you look from a diagnostic side, things like Seradec and Combidec are in development for cancer imaging applications. So nanotechnology has already had an impact on the way medicine is today, but the exciting thing really is that if you look at where we’re going with it the nanofield devices are becoming increasingly more sophisticated. In other words if you look back to the 1990s, a nanoparticle was just a vehicle to bring drugs, if you look at where we are today and what is proved is a nanoparticle also brings drugs, but sort of releasing it in a unique way. If you look at where we’re going with it, say in the next 10, 20 to 30 years, nanoparticles are becoming increasingly multi-functional so the nanoparticles that are now under development are able to recognize disease versus normal; in other words, in nanoparticles, surface has been functionalized or modified in a way that it can recognize the differences between a cancer cell and a healthy cell and a diseased cell. Thus, [being able to] deliver its therapeutic payload, if you would. Additionally, nanoparticles that are under development a little bit further down the road are able to do simultaneously a number of things so it can detect a disease and not only deliver a therapeutic agent the example, but also image it at the same time. The patient for example comes in for therapeutic chemotherapy and gets a dose of nanoparticles; simultaneously if you imagine the patient you are looking at, the effect of what the last chemo dose was, then where you’re starting from today. So in very real time you can look at the therapeutic value of your nanoparticle drug delivery system and then even further down the road nanoparticles are beginning to get developed, that are smart enough to auto regulate. For example, their drug release or their behavior, in other words a nanoparticles, may deliver a certain amount of drugs, but when it knows it’s delivered enough, it slows down or it shuts down its drug delivery properties not to deliver access drugs. So what we started off with, with very simple technology and what we’re going with are these multi-functional nanoparticles that really are very unique in characteristics unique in that there is no other way of getting something to do that other than bottom up or top down engineering and rational design and really what nanotechnology is.
Basic resources like clean water, medicine, energy/fuel are lacking in many developing countries. How could nanotechnology help provide basic services?
the application of nanotechnology is important to just about every industry, you can develop nanotechnology for example that are able to selectively ? or take up materials and therefore can be used for example for water purification you can use nanotechnology approaches to make something stable, if you’re talking about developing countries, vaccination requires refrigeration for example for stability and a lot of these developing countries, you know something as simple as a refrigerator is a scarcity and so they use nanotechnology approaches; for example to stabilize the vaccine it’ll be fine to use it to measure temperature, being an enormous contribution and so the application of nanotechnology is very broad and impacts just about every industry that you can put finger on.
In what direction is nanotechnology heading in terms of military applications?
If you look at the application of nanotechnology for military application again you know it’s not very different than the way we approach the science in just about any other field so if you talk about not military application, you can develop for example nanoparticles that are very effective so that a soldier may have that for example recognize an external threat. In other words that a soldier could have a mask on and the mask would recognize presence of a biological warfare and when it does that it changes its biological properties such that it can no longer readily penetrate it and it only does that selectively in the presence of a threat otherwise you would want it to penetrate the membrane or the clothing that the soldier may be wearing you could for example develop nanotechnology that are very effective as oxygen carriers and a soldier in the battlefield who may not have access to a blood transfusion after having a traumatic injury and blood loss and given for example and infusion of nanoparticles that are effective at oxygenation of the patient until the patient is then able to for example get the adequate blood transfusion that he needs. I won’t get into the application for example nanotechnology for surface coding which really I don’t consider those nanotechnology if you think about those as nanotechnology then the science has been around for a very long time but things like alteration of surface coding among others, for example on the material that the soldier use to optimize their properties then clearly those will impact just about every field including the windshield of your car.
Interview by Candice Vu