Nanotechnology is a technological advancement that is doing wonders in spite of the minuscule dimension. The use of extremely small particles to make new materials with useful characteristics is quite amusing. This field opens up a wide range of possibilities for special and unique applications, which are being worked on across the globe. With numerous medical disciplines benefiting from innovative features enabled by nanotechnologies, it is a boon to the healthcare sector. Nanotechnology offers compelling growth in the medical device community, as well as in the overall healthcare sector.
In the field of medical devices, nanotechnology has been playing quite a crucial role, in recent times. Some of the notable recent trends in this field are specific to neurology, cardiology, and oncology. A wide range of applications is related to the electrical and magnetic properties of materials on the nano-scale. This is specifically relevant to medical devices used in cardiology and neurology, such as pacemakers. Furthermore, the development of batteries with greatly increased lifetime for use in active implantable medical devices is now enabled by nanotechnology. Currently, a number of nanotechnology applications are specific to oncology. Some of the notable examples include diagnostic tests used in the early detection of cancer and devices for the identification of the boundaries of a tumor or metastases during surgical interventions. Nano-materials are also enhancing the effect of therapies like radiation therapy and chemotherapy through locally increased temperature, or by directly killing the tumor cells at high temperature.
The following are some of the amazing things that happened in the field nanotechnology in medical devices:
- Nanotech Detector for Heart Attacks
Eric Topol (MD, at San Diego–based Scripps Health) along with Axel Scherer (Ph.D., at Caltech) have been working on a technology that involves tiny bloodstream nanosensor chips that sense the precursor of a heart attack. The tiny chip sends a warning to the smartphone or a wireless device of the person possessing the chip that, they should immediately refer to a cardiologist.
The chip measures 90 micron which is much smaller than a sand grain. Currently, the sensors are being used for glucose detection in animal studies, which is expected to be followed by human trials. Nano detectors that detect heart attacks before the occurrence could save both lives and money. The combination of a nanosensor coupled with a smartphone can be used to track autoimmune disease and cancer. Application of nanosensors can also be extended to using them to screen for rejection in patients with organ transplants.
- Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillators
The implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) is used for the treatment of patients at risk of sudden cardiac death because of Ventricular Tachyarrhythmias, which is made by Medtronic. The CareLink Monitor allows patients to gather information by holding an antenna over the implanted cardiac device. The data is automatically downloaded by the monitor and sent to the secure Medtronic CareLink Network through an internet connection directly. The obtained patient data is accessed by clinicians by logging onto a website, which can be accessed from any place and network. Other important features of this ICD system include portable computer systems that program the implantable cardioverter-defibrillators or pacemakers, and, an LCD touch screen with a user-friendly interface that helps clinicians retrieve and study patient information during routine follow-up visits, which can easily make programming changes to the implanted devices.
- Nanotech-Enabled Breathalyzer
A group of researchers at Western New England University has developed a nanotechnology-powered breathalyzer prototype that can detect acetone levels in the breath, which is correlated to blood glucose levels. The ability to detect acetone in the breath is derived from acetone-sensitive nanometer-thick polymeric films. The prototype is roughly the size of a book. Scientists are working on shrinking the technology to a similar size to those used by police to detect blood alcohol content levels. This technology has the potential to do away with the need for finger-prick–based testing of blood sugar.
Scientists from the Technische Universität Dresden (Germany) and Fraunhofer Electron Beam and Plasma Technology (FEP) are also working along the same lines in making a breath-analyzing spectrometer, which is tiny enough to fit into a mobile phone.
Considering the pace at which nanotechnology is revolutionizing the healthcare industry, many designers and scientists across the globe are coming up with some amazing research and unique and innovative prototypes. But, the most important thing for medical device designers to think about is the intersection of their technology with different technologies that are going on in the world at the same time. Looking for intersection and anticipating it is very crucial.
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