Over the years, one of the most important objectives of diagnostic medicine has been to be able to diagnose medical problems as swiftly as possible, enabling healthcare professionals to treat patients before any irreversible or long-term damage can occur. This is because the symptoms of some conditions only arise after a certain amount of time. By the time these symptoms come to the surface, the underlying condition will have advanced to such a stage that its treatment is much more complicated than it would have been had the problem been discovered earlier. For example, pancreatic cancer often does not show any symptoms in the early stages. The symptoms only start to appear when cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Researchers are exploring the use of nanotechnology for this purpose. Due to their extremely small size, nanoparticles possess the ability to penetrate cells and open an array of opportunities for previously untreatable conditions. For example, in conditions such as pneumonia in cases of cystic fibrosis, the bacteria grows to form a biofilm which is impenetrable for anti-biotics. On the other hand, these nanoparticles have the potential to penetrate such biofilms and then kill the bacteria. This helps in the regeneration of healthy tissue in the process such that there is no need for an operation. Another objective for the research team is to develop a sensor using nanotechnology to mimic the human immune cells that circulate the body, indicating when something is wrong and responding positively to any problems that may arise someday in the future.
Thomas Webster, a professor and chairman of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the Northeastern University, is working to develop such nanosensors. He has already discovered the materials that will be used to make the sensors without getting rejected from the body. However, it remains a challenge to discover a way to power these sensors continuously for their effective functioning. Once this hurdle is crossed, we could say that the next level of diagnostic medicine would have been achieved.