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Nanotechnology: How Will It Someday Shape Telemedicine?

Nanotechnology is on the scale of individual blood cells. (Picture taken by Polygon Medical Animation and posted on Flickr. Downloaded August, 2012.)

The future of nanotechnology, like many areas of medicine, can be full of hype. In fact, nanotechnology has probably been hyped up even more than other areas of science and medicine.

But the truth is, even though some of these devices are still far off in the future, the overall picture of nanotechnology is incredibly exciting. Today we’ll talk about some of the more realistic, short-term innovations that we can expect to see in the next few years, and in coming articles we’ll talk about some of the more long-term possibilities.

Nanotech In The Near Future
Of the many possibilities, one of the first things we can probably expect to see is the development of special drug delivery systems. The idea of using nanomaterials to deliver drugs to very specific sites in very specific ways is not only feasible, but it is probably one of the first technologies that will come along.

We could use specially designed shells of nanomaterials that cover up a drug until it’s

reached its exact location of intended delivery, and then using a fairly simple mechanism, the device could dissolve and release the medicine onto its target, without affecting any other cells that it has passed by. With chemicals that have relatively high incidence of side effects, this could reduce unintended damage to neighboring cells.

Individualized Medicine
The whole trend of nanotechnology also lends itself to individualized medicine. Rather than having a default one-size-fits-all way of attacking diseases or diagnosing conditions, it could end up that we’re much more able to tweak a treatment plan to fit your body, your genetics, and even your lifestyle.

Imagine a program, for instance, where a doctor uses nanomachinery to detect exactly how well your body is fighting the illness you have, and then only prescribes treatment that supplements your weakest areas, rather than giving a blanket prescription that sometimes is redundant or less effective.

Imaging Technology

Nanotechnology can also allow doctors to develop imaging technologies based on the properties of the tiny crystals they create using nano-scale materials. Just like the X-ray and the MRI have given us the ability to diagnose modern diseases more easily, we can look forward to even more important advances in the near future.

For one thing, we might soon be able to investigate inter-cellular processes in as much detail as we currently delve into bodily processes. This constitutes a shift in scale that is several orders of magnitude. Quantum dots, for example, are tiny molecules that glow when exposed to light. They’re currently being used to study the actions of malaria on red blood cells by covering them in a protein that is absorbed into the cell.