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You are here: MEDICA Portal. Part I: Nanotechnology. Materials.

One of the Keys for the 21st Century (Part 2)

One of the Keys for the 21st Century (Part 2)

2nd Part: Medical products more compatible for body

However, nanoparticles are able to achieve even more: Nano sized carriers are supposed to transport drugs to a sick organ without harming healthy ones or to cross biological barriers like the blood-brain barrier - important for treating Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or epilepsy. New contrast agents could one day revolutionize clinical diagnostics. The theory: Nanoparticles bind to specific diseased cells and help to identify cardiovascular diseases or they could support physicians by estimating the risk that emanates from a tumour. And some day, researchers would like to practice early stage diagnosis that would not be possible any earlier: they are aiming at observing molecules in the cell. If something went wrong there, it could be evaluated as a warning against serious future diseases.

Additionally, nanotechnology can also help to render prostheses more biocompatible. Hip joints made of steel or dental implants made of titan need to be incorporated properly into the bone. This is also true for artificial cornea implants - though they need to be adhered to living tissue. Joachim Storsberg from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research in Potsdam, Germany develops ultra thin films in order to tackle a great problem: the base material an artificial cornea is made of repels water and human cells – that is important because the carrier needs to be able to see through the optical part of the implant. „The edges of the artificial cornea on the other hand must adhere well to the natural tissue surrounding it and needs to accept tears on the anterior optical part“, Storsberg explains.

Photo: Artificial cornea with adhered cells
In-vitro cell culture test: The artificial cornes's left side is
colonised by natural cells, the optical part on the right side
remains free; © Fraunhofer IAP

Biocompatible and bio-integrable surfaces are the solution. With the help of nanotechnological procedures the chemist coats the cornea's edges with a special protein that triggers the cells of the remaining natural cornea to settle down. „The optical part is covered by an ultra thin hydrophilic polymer film“, Storsberg explains. That way tears are not repelled on the outside of the cornea.

New competition through businesses normally not connected to medicine

Nanotechnology does not only change the physician's everyday life, it also changes working conditions for manufacturers of medical products. „Nanotechnology creates new competitive situations since businesses enter the medical market that previously did not concern themselves with medicine“, Andreas Greiner observes. The professor for macromolecular chemistry and technology at the University of Marburg works on new methods for regenerative medicine. „Companies primarily concerned with chemistry get in on, for example, tissue engineering.“ Nanotechnology - not being a classical technology with defined boundaries - starts to merge researchers and businesses from different areas - let it be medicine, electronics, optics or material sciences.

Electrospinning, for example, has once been patented for producing artificial silk using electrical charges. Today the procedure is being applied in regenerative medicine - in a modified manner. „We manufacture nanofibres with electrospinning that are being used as a film for surgical dressings amongst other things. But it is also used for creating scaffolds in tissue engineering“, Greiner explains. Previously it had turned out that cells grow better on thin fibres than on others.

Photo: Nanofibres for tissue engineering
Support for cells: Nanofibres made of collagen (l.) and
chitosan (r.); © Angewandte Chemie

The procedure works by applying a strong electrical field to a droplet of a polymer solution at the tip of a conductive die. The charging of the fluid leads to the ejection of a fluid jet from the tip of the cone. The charged jet is accelerated toward the counter electrode and thins rapidly during this period due to elongation and evaporation of the solvent until solid fibers are deposited onto the substrate located on top of the counter electrode. „This is a very complex procedure and it is at present the only technique that makes it possible to produce endless fibres with a diameter of only a few nanometres“, Greiner says. However, the process has not been implemented yet in practice but Greiner and colleagues pursue this goal for the near future.

- 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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