Thanks to nanotechnologies, in particular nanoelectronics, the medical sector is about to undergo deep changes by exploiting the traditional strengths of the semiconductor industry - miniaturization and integration. While conventional electronics have already found many applications in biomedicine - medical monitoring of vital signals, biophysical studies of excitable tissues, implantable electrodes for brain stimulation, pacemakers, and limb stimulation - the use of nanomaterials and nanoscale applications will bring a further push towards implanted electronics in the human body. A new perspective article provides an overview of nanoelectronics' potential in the biomedical sciences.
Nitrogen-doped carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have been extensively investigated for fuel cell applications due to their excellent electrocatalytic properties. However, their biomedical applications were comparatively less investigated despite reports of their better biocompatibility. When considering carbon nanotubes for drug delivery applications, it is desirable to develop strategies that allow utilize their hollow inner cavities for maximum loading capacity. Small size and facile surface modification are also preferable with regard to their biomedical compatibility. Nitrogen-doped CNTs have been already previously demonstrated to have better biocompatibility and mitigated cytotoxicity as compared to traditional undoped pristine CNTs. Taking advantage of this, researchers used nitrogen doping of CNTs which resulted in formation of cup-shaped compartments in CNTs uniquely suitable for encapsulation. The resulting nitrogen-doped carbon nanotube cups can be corked by gold nanoparticles to form enclosed nanocapsules.
Early and accurate detection of cancer is critical for successful cancer therapies. In most cases, a tissue biopsy is the initial means of making a diagnosis. With increasing accuracy, 'liquid biopsies' - where circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are isolated from blood samples - are becoming a viable complement or even alternative to invasive biopsies of metastatic tumors. CTC is of great interest for evaluating cancer dissemination, predicting patient prognosis, and also for the evaluation of therapeutic treatments. In new work, researchers describe a rapid and simple electrochemical biosensing strategy to quantify circulating tumour cells based on the simultaneous use of antibody-coated magnetic beads, which selectively bind to the cancer cells for subsequent magnetic isolation, and antibody-coated gold nanoparticles, to also selectively bind to the cancer cells for final electrochemical detection.
Vaccination is one of the most effective ways to prevent microbial infection. Synthetic vaccines can combine a portion of a microbe, known as an 'antigen' together with an adjuvant that stimulates the immune system. Delivering both the adjuvant and antigen to the appropriate immune cells is challenging. DNA nanotechnology may provide a solution by acting as a scaffold to co-deliver both antigen and adjuvant. However, the potential of DNA nanostructure-based vaccines has only been demonstrated in vitro. Now, a team of researchers based out of Arizona State University demonstrated that DNA nanostructures with appended adjuvants could elicit antibody production against a model antigen in mice.
A major obstacle in today's chemical cancer therapies is to achieve specific drug accumulation at tumor sites and even tumor cells, because most chemotherapeutic agents are insoluble and instable, and can not differentiate between diseased and healthy cells. This often leads to severe adverse effects on healthy tissues and limits the maximum dose that can safely administered to patients. This issue becomes more serious in the case of some highly effective therapeutic agents, given that most potent anticancer drugs exhibit acute toxicity and narrow therapeutic window, and the clinical utility may not be possible without a powerful delivery systems equipped with smart properties that can allow them to precisely access the target tissues and cells. Targeted delivery approaches using nanomedicines will be able to provide solutions to these problems.
Carbon nanotubes, like the nervous cells of our brain, are excellent electrical signal conductors and can form intimate mechanical contacts with cellular membranes, thereby establishing a functional link to neuronal structures. There is a growing body of research on using nanomaterials in neural engineering. This emerging field of 'nanoneuroscience' explores and utilizes the potential of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) for fabricating durable, robust substrates, scaffolds and interfacing devices that change how researchers approach neuroscience. One area of neuron-CNT interaction that is now being probed is the effect of CNTs on neural stem cells. In new work by a team of scientists from Taiwan, it was found that electrical stimulation significantly promotes the early differentiation and maturation of neural stem cells.
Breath analysis of exhaled breath condensate has been increasingly recognized as a promising diagnostic method to link specific gaseous components in human breath to medical conditions and exposure to chemical compounds. Sampling breath is also much less invasive than testing blood, can be done very quickly, and creates as good as no biohazard waste. Studies have shown that exhaled breath from a flu patient contains influenza viruses but, although the use of silicon nanowire (SiNW) sensors for virus detection is not new, so far no studies have been conducted to apply silicon nanowire technology to the diagnosis of flu. Now, new research suggests that a SiNW sensor device, when calibrated by virus standards and exhaled breath condensate controls, can be reliably applied to the diagnosis of flu in a clinical setting with two orders of magnitude less time compared to the gold standard method RT-qPCR.
Many nanotechnology projects require some form of nanopatterning technique for fabricating the devices, structures and surfaces required in fields ranging from electronics to photonics, security, biotechnology and medicine. Although they may not be visible to the naked eye, the nanometer-sized trenches, ridges, curves and grooves of these patterns and surfaces have a very visible impact. Researchers have developed a wide range of nanopatterning techniques, from top-down methods such as nanoimprint, e-beam or UV lithography to bottom-up techniques such as transfer nanolithography or nanopositioning on DNA or protein scaffolds. A novel technique uses a biofunctionalization approach based on resist-less electron-beam-induced deposition of carbon-containing nanofeatures, that has been developed into a universal biofunctionalization platform. This unique ability can be exploited for biological experiments, where cells respond to the nanoscale density of activating molecules such as antibodies.