What is Nanomedicine

Nanomedicine is the science of developing new healthcare breakthroughs that are designed and constructed on the nanometre scale (the nanoscale).  The nanoscale is incredibly small – one nanometre (nm) is one-billionth of a metre, analogous to the size difference between a marble and the earth.

The nanoscale is also a size range that’s relevant to biologically important structures.  It extends from small molecules such as glucose (~1 nm wide), to proteins including antibodies (~10 nm), viruses (~100 nm), bacteria (~1,000 nm) and human cells (~10,000 nm).  Continuing with the marble analogy, if glucose were the size of a marble, then antibodies would be about the size of a volleyball, viruses the size of a very small car, bacteria the size of an 18 wheel truck trailer, red blood cells about the size of a soccer field, and other human cells about the size of a 70,000 seat sports stadium.

Scale of nanomedicine

Building components on the nanoscale allows scientists to take advantage of physical, chemical and biological interactions that are not possible on larger size scales.  Materials that interact directly with biological structures offer potential for improvements in prevention, detection and treatment of diseases.  For example, nanoparticles that are designed to recognise cancer cells can deliver anti-cancer drugs directly to tumor cells while leaving healthy cells intact.  This targeted delivery is made possible by engineering materials on the nanoscale to interact directly with the cells of interest.

Nanomedicine covers a wide variety of technologies and applications, but it is usually broken down into two broad areas: diagnostics and therapies.  Diagnostics looks at using nanotechnology to aid in the diagnosis of diseases using sensors, analytical assays, or imaging technology.  Therapy is usually focussed on drug delivery and interactions in the body that will allow specific targeting of, for example, cancer cells.