Pipsqueak against Resistances

27. January 2009

Larger, higher, further - these are the dimensions of general interest. But not in nanotechnology. There it can't get small enough. Also medicine benefits from the nanos, for example in identifying antibiotics against resistant bacteria.

With tiny little “nanoprobes” English researchers spy on the effects or non-effects of antibiotics. Initial tests with the silicone-based technology were made with Vancomycin. In the meantime screenings were expanded to additional potential antibiotics. In the end the target of Dr. Rachel McKendry at the London Centre for Nanotechnology and her colleagues is to precipitate the identification of potential antibiotics against “super-pathogens with the aid of nanotechnology. According to McKendry, the antibiotics resistance increases alarmingly. “This is a major global health problem and is driving the development of new technologies to investigate antibiotics and how they work.” The head of the studies says that it is the first time that nanoprobes are being used for the screening of new drugs. With this process based on nanotechnology scientists are able to detect within minutes whether or not an antibiotic can put a bacteria out of action.

Tiny probes as Nanoprobes

“Nanoprobes” are tiny probes you perhaps could describe as nano-test strips, explains Prof. Dr. Axel Lorke, speaker and dean of the Center for Nanointegration (CeNIDE) at the Duisburg-Essen University to DocCheck. “Here we take advantage of the fact that smallest defections of a mirror are capable of influencing the light strongly. Just imaging you would reflect the sun light with a small pocket mirror on a wall 10 meters away. If you turn the mirror by only one degree, the spot moves about 15 cm”. And how do nanoprobes work in this particular case? Lorke: “During the study tiny test strips are equipped with substances representative for a) the resistant and b) the antibiotic non-resistant pathogen. These substances respectively their molecules stick out from the base like grass or the bristles of a brush. If the antibiotic now takes up (case b), it squeezes itself between the molecules thus bending the base i. e. the tiny test strips. In case a) the molecules do not take up and the test strips remain straight. The bending of the test strips is read out by a light pointer.”

Nanomedicine for better diagnostics and therapy

Nanotechnology is traded as the technology of the 21st century which has more potential for ground-breaking applications. The word nano is of Greek origin and means “dwarf” – it stands for methods, tools and materials in nanometer dimensions. One nanometer equates one millionth millimeter respectively an order matching the organelle and supramolecular structures of a human cell. And exactly this makes the technology most interesting for medical application. Nanomedicine is yet a young but very promising science with the target to develop faster, safer and more aimed solutions for diagnostics and therapy of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, but also for implantation medicine. Scientists in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology and medicine are working together in nano-research.

A diversity of medical applications in development

Just how broad the scientific field of nanomedicine really is becomes obvious by taking a look at its tools, methods and materials. Key words are – according to the European Foundation for Clinical Medicine in Basel/Switzerland: Scanning microscopy, nano-optics, nanomaterials and –surfaces, nano-fluidic, nano-devices and nano-robots.

Examples for those medical applications under development are: Scanning microscopes able to show biological preparations all the way down to single molecules. Nanosensors for example are suitable to recognize complex odor patterns of specific diseases in breathing air. Nano-structured carriers transport medication targeted into sick cells and organs thus avoiding side effects. Nano-fluidic means that smallest amounts of fluid such as one drop of blood are enough to do a series of measurements. The principle is applied today in the so-called “bedside monitoring”. Regarding the current status of nanomedicine, Professor Dr. Patrick Hunziker, president of the European Society of Nanomedicine and co-founder of CLINAM, explains to DocCheck: Nanomedicine has well advanced in vitro and in vivo. First clinical studies have been started. Studies with new nanomedical therapy types have shown that it works to apply drugs in smaller doses thus with less side effects but stronger effect on for example tumors and other diseases. We expect a boom in nanomedical applications in the next couple of years.”

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