Medical Applications

Many medical procedures could be handled by nanomachines that rebuild arteries, rebuild bones, and reinforce bones. In cancer nan-otechnology research, scientists are testing and experimenting with new ideas to diagnose, treat, and prevent cancer in the future.

One research medical team is using nanoshells to target cancer cells. Nanoshells are hollow silica spheres covered with gold. In animal testing, Naomi Halas's research team at Rice University directed infrared radiation through tissue and onto the shells, causing the gold to superheat and destroy tumor cells while leaving healthy ones intact. Human clinical trials using gold nanoshells are slated to begin within a few years.

Another cancer research team has shown that the targeted gold nanoparticles combined with lasers can kill oral cancer cells. Oral cancer is any cancerous tissue growth located in the mouth. Smoking and other tobacco use are associated with 70-80 percent of oral cancer cases. Thirty thousand Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year. See Chapter 5 for more information about the medical field.


In other nano medical news, researchers are studying lab-on-a-chip technology. Lab-on-a-chip technology consists of a portable handheld device containing a simple computer chip that can diagnose and monitor the medical conditions of a patient. As an example, a tiny sample of blood placed on the device could diagnose if the patient is diabetic. The lab-on-a-chip could be used for commercial, medical diagnostic applications, such as an in-office test for strep throat, or modern in-home pregnancy tests.

NASA has customized lab-on-a-chip technology to protect future space explorers. The lab-on-a-chip would be used to monitor the health of the crew by detecting contaminants in the spacecraft.

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