Thursday, July 19, 2012

Will 'nanobiotics' take over from antibiotics?

It seems that nanotechnology is having an ever greater impact on medication, as well as many other fields.  The University of Florida has announced:

University of Florida researchers have moved a step closer to treating diseases on a cellular level by creating a tiny particle that can be programmed to shut down the genetic production line that cranks out disease-related proteins.

In laboratory tests, these newly created “nanorobots” all but eradicated hepatitis C virus infection. The programmable nature of the particle makes it potentially useful against diseases such as cancer and other viral infections.

. . .

“This is a novel technology that may have broad application because it can target essentially any gene we want,” [Dr. Chen] Liu said. “This opens the door to new fields so we can test many other things. We’re excited about it.”

During the past five decades, nanoparticles — particles so small that tens of thousands of them can fit on the head of a pin — have emerged as a viable foundation for new ways to diagnose, monitor and treat disease. Nanoparticle-based technologies are already in use in medical settings, such as in genetic testing and for pinpointing genetic markers of disease. And several related therapies are at varying stages of clinical trial.

The Holy Grail of nanotherapy is an agent so exquisitely selective that it enters only diseased cells, targets only the specified disease process within those cells and leaves healthy cells unharmed.

To demonstrate how this can work, Cao and colleagues, with funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Naval Research and the UF Research Opportunity Seed Fund, created and tested a particle that targets hepatitis C virus in the liver and prevents the virus from making copies of itself.

. . .

The particle they created can be tailored to match the genetic material of the desired target of attack, and to sneak into cells unnoticed by the body’s innate defense mechanisms.

Recognition of genetic material from potentially harmful sources is the basis of important treatments for a number of diseases, including cancer, that are linked to the production of detrimental proteins. It also has potential for use in detecting and destroying viruses used as bioweapons.

. . .

In laboratory tests, the treatment led to almost a 100 percent decrease in hepatitis C virus levels. In addition, it did not trigger the body’s defense mechanism, and that reduced the chance of side effects. Still, additional testing is needed to determine the safety of the approach.

Future therapies could potentially be in pill form.

There's more at the link.

This news is of particular and very personal interest to me, because I've lost two friends to complications resulting from Hepatitis C.  If this treatment proves feasible for wider use, not just in the laboratory, it may save tens of thousands of lives - and that's just the start.

Of course, there's also the negative aspect.  Unscrupulous nations and individuals might turn to nanotechnology to produce biological weapons - meaning that counter-weapons, also using nanotechnology, can't be far down the road.  I can't imagine it'll be fun if our bodies turn into battlegrounds . . .



ZerCool said...

Definitely some interesting stuff to watch.

Several years ago, a friend was mid-tour in Iraq when his HMMWV took an IED. He was injured (fortunately "only" his arm/wrist) and evac'd back to the US for treatment. He spent a fair bit of time in the hospital at Ft. Sam getting patched back up, and his mother spent a lot of time visiting.

When she wasn't spending time with him, she was wandering the halls and grounds talking with anyone who needed an ear. One of the young men she talked to told her that the army was giving him shots of "tiny little robots" that had accelerated his recovery phenomenally.

Apocryphal? Yes, of course. Nutjob? Perhaps. Plausible? Absolutely.

Anonymous said...

The Chinese have been working on nanotechnology for quite a while. I would like to hope that everything they've been working on is for humanitarian and medicinal uses, but, well, you know. *shrugs* I probably just read too much sci-fi.