We are kicking off the New Year with a refreshed look and content line-up at APBN. In this issue, we take a closer look at nanotechnology — an area of research that holds much potential (much like the beginning of a New Year).
The emergence of nanotechnology came about in the 1980s, a concept popularized and founded by K. Eric Drexler, who spent the next ten years communicating this idea and engaging himself in the field. Nanotechnology is thought to hold the key to many real-world problems — from the domain of medicine to that of machinery — based on the concept of constructing things from the bottom up by manipulating the very, very tiny. It was only at the turn of the new millennia, however, that nanotechnology was given more awareness; and raised more controversy; due to its myriad of possible applications.
Mihail (Mike) Roco of the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative describes four generations of nanotechnology development. The first era, he says, is that of passive nanostructures — materials designed to perform one task. The second era, which is the phase we are currently in, introduces active nanostructures for multitasking, like actuators, drug delivery devices, and sensors. The third generation, Roco predicts, will feature nanosystems with interacting components which finally culminates in the fourth phase where nanosystems are integrated, and functioning much like mammalian cells.
We are beginning to see the commercialization of nanotechnology. For example, nanocages are being built for drug delivery purposes, and nanofilms are emitting vapors to protect fruits and vegetables while also extending shelf-life. The latter example is a project launched between researchers from Tamil Nadu Agriculture University (TNAU) and collaborators in Canada and India. They are studying, over a period of 30 months, nanomaterials impregnated with synthetic versions of an agent called hexanal — responsible for fruit and vegetable deterioration — which helps extend the freshness and shelf-life of produce by targeting an enzyme called phospholipase-D.
There are also FDA approved treatments that are considered “nanotechnology”. One such example is Abraxane, a nanoparticle formulation of albumin and Doxil — a liposomal formulation of a chemo drug. These products are, however, not exploiting all the features that nanotechnology can bring to the field of therapeutics. There are currently clinical trials in place for nano-based therapeutics that possess multi-functions for Phase I of cancer — an indication that the potential application of nanotechnology in this field could be immense.
Despite the hype that surrounds nanotechnology, one major concern is toxicity. It is unclear how and what toxicity nanoparticles have. Some new products like cleaners and coatings are appearing in the market without answering this because there are no regulations on them. What may be harmless at a macro or chemical level may have different effects on the body as a nanoparticle. There has not been a fatal event thus far that can be attributed to the nanoparticles in clinical trials or otherwise. It is heartening that in general, most of the nanoparticles in clinical trials are both showing reduced side effects and not revealing new ones. However, this does not undermine the importance of studying the long term implications of nanotechnology applications.
Here’s wishing you an inspiring and fruitful 2013!
Asia Pacific Biotech News
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