5 Big Advances in Small Clinical Technology

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media , August 10, 2010

3. Microscopic sensors
Just this month, University of Washington researchers used nanotechnology to integrate microscopic optical, electronic, and biosensing devices into contact lenses to continuously monitor a patient’s health through the biochemistry of the eye surface—displaying the information through symbols right on the lensĀ  That sound distracting? In the future, the information could also be sent via text message or e-mail.

In July, Food and Drug Administration approved a new treatment that could help millions of older adults who are nearly blinded by macular degeneration—a miniature telescope implanted directly into the eye that magnifies images to more than twice their size. One problem? Although it can sit comfortably atop a fingertip, the device is still relatively large—and it’s not for everybody.

4/5. Nanotechnology and tumors
In July, at a meeting of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM), researchers talked about nano-coated “gold bullets” that help destroy tumors and improve radiation therapy.

Image-guided radiation therapy targets tumors in organs that tend to move during treatment, such as the prostate gland or the lungs, as well as tumors near vital organs. Often, inert markers are implanted into the body to help radiation oncologists pinpoint the cancerous tissue.

Researchers say they want to use these markers to deliver drugs that will combat cancer and make the tumor more sensitive to radiation. The drugs can be tailored to different tumor types, the researchers say.

“Right now, these markers are just passive implants that are inserted into the tumor,” says Srinivas Sridhar, a physics professor at Northeastern University and director of the university’s Electronic Materials Research Institute. “We’re making them active and smart using nanotechnology,” he said.

While researchers are already developing nanotechnology capsules that deliver a cancer drug to tumors with precision, researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX, have developed a targeted nanocapsule system that delivers two cancer therapies simultaneously: the chemotherapy agent doxorubicin and heat therapy (hyperthermia).

The system is based on nanoparticle-assembled capsules (NACs), structures that form themselves as a result of their chemical properties. The capsules contain the chemotherapy agent doxorubicin. An external magnetic field passed over the nanocapsule releases doxorubicin and also heats up the NAC solution, heating the tumor cells to kill them.

"The great thing about our magnetic, nanoparticle-assembled capsule is that it's a multifunctional device that can be used simultaneously to release the desired drug concentration at the tumor site while heating up the tumor cells," says lead researcher John McGary.

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