Advances in Nanotechnology for Healthcare

Nanotechnology approaches are able to perform cancer diagnoses and help in reconstructive surgery at the cellular level. Frost & Sullivan has identified some pioneers in these efforts.

As material science shrank to the nanoscale, it sparked the development of scientific achievements in material performance in the way the microscopic scale did a generation earlier. Nanotechnology has significant potential in health care, where diagnostics and therapeutics are needed to work at the cellular level. 

Indeed, nanotechnology is to advanced medicine what microtechnology is to advanced electronics. Nanotechnology approaches are able to perform cancer diagnoses and help in reconstructive surgery at the cellular level. Frost & Sullivan has identified some pioneers in these efforts.

Nanobridging Molecules S.A. (Gland, Switzerland)

Dental implants are typically made of titanium, a very strong metal that provides patients with needed durability. A critical factor for successful dental implantation is a healthy jawbone with which the metal implant can be integrated. Many patients lack adequate bone height, width or length for a successful implant. Procedures such as sinus lift can help implantation, but they are lengthy and costly.

Nanobridging Molecules (NBM) collaborated with MIS Implants Technologies to develop its SurfLink surface treatment technology for patients with insufficient bone structure for dental implants. SurfLink involves adding a permanent, hydrophilic and phosphorus-rich nanoscale layer to an implant to enhance osseointegration (i.e., integration with the patient’s jawbone). Clinical tests have shown that dental implants treated with the SurfLink nanolayer achieved a 100 percent success rate, and that patients’ marginal bone levels increased 66 percent compared with control implants.

NBM currently provides its surface treatment technology for titanium dental and orthopedic implants only. In a few years, the company plans to expand the scope of its technology to prepare the surface of other medical implants—particularly spinal implants.

Nanobiotix (Paris, France)

Radiotherapy is used to detect cancer, but it is limited in pinpointing the exact location of malignant tumors. This technology also poses the threat of collateral damage to healthy tissue surrounding malignancies.

One way to make radiotherapy more accurate and less toxic is to inject the patient with radiation-enhancing compounds that will boost the radiation level at the cancer cell level. However, radio enhancers are expensive and difficult to manufacture.

Scientists at Nanobiotix are looking to change the economics of radio enhancers with NBTXR3, a novel radio enhancer that is being tested in seven indications across Europe, the United States, and the Asia-Pacific region. NBTXR3 consists of nano X-ray particles that possess an inorganic core of crystallized hafnium oxide. The particles are sized at 50 nanometers, making them small enough to enter cancer cells. The nanoparticles have high electron density and are able to better absorb the energy imparted by X-ray treatments.

When injected into a tumor, the nanoparticles will accumulate in cancer cells by absorbing the ionizing radiation delivered by radiotherapy. The Nanobiotix technology then magnifies the tumor  cells locally to show their exact position in the body and their level of malignancy.

The novel radio enhancer has passed phase I/II trials in liver, prostate cancer, head and neck  cancers,  and  rectal  cancers. Phase II/III trials being conducted through December 2019 are testing the radio enhancer on patients with soft tissue sarcoma on both the extremity and truck wall of both arms.

Other potential uses that Nanobiotix is considering for its radio enhancer include esophageal cancer, glioblastoma and cervical cancer.  In  these  cases,  the radio  enhancers  would be administered  by  a single  intratumoral  injection  made directly  before administering  radiotherapy.  

University Medical Center (Utrecht, Netherlands)

The American Society of Clinical Oncology estimated that in 2017, 12,820 women in the United States were diagnosed with cervical cancer, and that 4,210 died of the disease. Early detection is critical to survival: the society reported that the five-year survival of women with invasive cervical cancer is 91 percent if it is detected at an early stage.

Imaging scans are used for the detection of metastases in cervical cancer, but this technique can produce false positive results, leading to errors  in  the  assessment  of the metastasis and costly invasive procedures.

University Medical Center researchers aim to improve the accuracy of cervical cancer metastasis assessment with their nanocolloid-based single photon emission computed tomography- magnetic resonance imaging (SPECT-MRI) fusion technology. The Dutch scientists injected proprietary, nontoxic colloids into patients. They then prepared fused data sets using the SPECT technology (a nuclear imaging test that shows how blood flows to tissues and organs) and MRI technology (which combines magnetic fields and radio waves to visualize body interiors).

The team used these data sets to detect the size and absence of sharp demarcation of sentinel lymph nodes that indicate the presence of metastasis, or final cancer stage cells. The nanocolloids improved the accuracy of imaging and analysis. 

The Road Ahead

While nanotechnology is demonstrating its efficacy in clinical trials, there are concerns about the safety of these minute particles. These concerns are also expressed in industrial applications such as specialized coatings, but are more acute in health care where nanoparticles will contact patients.

Developers stress the safety of their nanoparticles but must be able to demonstrate that according to all pertinent national and international standards. Certifications of compliance to those standards will go a long way in driving the use of nanotechnology as an augmentative or even replacement technology in both diagnostics and therapeutics.

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