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You are here: MEDICA Portal. Part I: Nanotechnology. Medical Markets.

One of the Keys for the 21st Century (Part 1)

One of the Keys for the 21st Century (Part 1)

Nanotechnology has already been used in ancient times - the people back then just did not know about it. It must have been by accident that the Romans discovered how to colour glas in a special way: Just mix small amounts of gold into molten glass and heat it up again for a few hours. Today scientists know that - through this process - gold particles aggregate in nanometre size which break light in a way that the glass appears to glow in ruby.

Particles and tubes in nanometre size are also relevant in everyday life of modern man, for example, in varnish, wheels and sunscreen. However, experts are convinced that they will become a lot more important in future times than already and they talk about nanotechnology being one of the key technologies of the 21st century. The National Science Foundation in the USA, for example, assumes that the market volume will reach one billion US-dollars in 2015. The most important areas being affected: environment and energy, information and communication technology and medicine.

Millions are being invested in research and development

„Nanotechnology promises great progress in medicine for diagnostics and therapy“, Dr. Viola Klamroth says, press officer of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). „That is especially true for widespread maladies such as cardiovascular diseases and age-related degenerative illnesses of the neurological system.“ These are some reasons why research concerned with nanomaterial and -technologies is being state-aided: Germany pays for an initiative called NanoforLife 27 million Euros from 2005 until 2009 and for the technology initiative Molecular Imaging 150 million Euros for the next ten years – the industry is going to participate with an additional 750 million.

Photo montage: One Cent piece next to Earth
One nanometre versus one metre equals cent next to Earth

The research aims at a better understanding of the incomprehensible nanosized world: If one compares a nanometre to a metre than the same relation applies to a one cent piece next to the Earth. These are dimensions so small that instead of the classical principles of physics the rules of quantum mechanics apply. Objects in nanosize consist almost only of surface: A spherical particle's surface with a diametre of 3 nanometres combines 50 per cent of the atoms. Magnetic, electronic, optical, thermal or thermodynamic properties change completely. Materials in nano size behave different to materials on the macro scale – seldom predictable.

Biochemist Andreas Jordan experienced this at the beginning of the 90s when he worked as a Doktor at the Charité in Berlin trying to develop a new approach to combat cancer. His idea: „Deliver things into the tumour and heat them up on location to kill cancer cells without harming surrounding healthy tissue“, Christofer Radic explains, press officer of MagForce Nanotechnologies, a business founded by Jordan that is dedicated to producing everything involved in his idea.

Magnetic particles against cancer

„At that time nobody was really concerned with nanoparticles“, says Radic. Jordan randomly did experiments with particles of different sizes until a sample arrived from Japan – a test tube filled with a liquid. The biochemist applied a magnetic field to it and the test tube heated up until it burst. „It turned out that this effect was due to nanoparticles“, Radic explains. This was the beginning of thermotherapy using magnetic nanoparticles. The method works by injecting iron oxide particles into a brain tumour which are then taken up by cancer cells. By applying a magnetic alternating field near the patient's head the magnetic particles start to swing back and forth, they heat up, the temperature in the tumour rises to over 70 degrees Celsius and the cancer cells die.

Currently patients with brain tumours are being treated in clinical studies. „The results are promising so far“, Radic reveals. „We expect approval for the treatment of glioblastoma at the beginning of 2010.“ However, the companies plans more: It would like to complement cancer therapy in the whole, because thermotherapy using magnetic nanoparticles could "in principal be applicable to any body region". Radic: „In the long run we regard our therapy as being the fourth column in the treatment of cancer next to chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.“

- Part 1: One of the Keys for the 21st Century
- Part 2: Medical Products more Compatible for Body
- Part 3: Ckeck with the Risks first


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Overview - Future Trends in Medical Technology