Can Nanotechnology Have An Impact For Patients With Diabetes?

Robert G. Smith, DPM, MSc, RPh, CPed

   Regardless of their specialty, clinicians will encounter patients who are affected by diabetes mellitus, infection and wound healing issues. Therefore, the emerging, evolving science of nanomedicine and how this technology could positively enhance patient outcomes would be of great interest to all physicians including DPMs.

   The current literature has reported and recognized the many possibilities and applications for nanotechnology. The impact of nanotechnology on medicine is growing with each passing day. The medical applications for nanotechnology are enormous and could give medicine, including the treatment of diabetes, an entirely new outlook.

   Accordingly, let us take a closer look at the pharmacological aspects for nanomedicine as a therapeutic approach as it may apply to podiatric medicine and diabetes.

   Nanomedicine utilizes components as tiny as 1/80,000th of the diameter of a human hair. At the scale of 1 nanometer (or 10 times the diameter of a hydrogen atom), materials and devices can interact with cells and biological molecules in a unique way.1 The applications of nanomedicine include the detection of molecules such as proteins or DNA, imaging enhancers and targeting specific tissues to deliver therapeutic agents.1

   Pharmaceutical companies are developing targeted drug delivery systems via a combination of nanotechnology and medications that already exist.
   Bottomley defines nanotechnology, as it applies to the pharmaceutical industry, as the generation of therapeutically relevant matter between 1 and 100 nm.2 Delivery vehicles with nanometer dimensions can include complex functions such as controlled release and tissue targeting delivery. The nanoparticles used in tissue targeting delivery contain therapeutic molecules, which can be released at a desired time and location.1

   When it comes to improved drug delivery, nanotechology can associate drug nanoparticles with a carrier like plasma albumin to improve organ targeting or encapsulate the active material in liposomes. Each process improves medication targeting by enhancing the drug compound’s half-life.2 Drug targeting via nanotechnology can also decrease general drug-induced toxicities by limiting systemic exposure.2

What The Emerging Research Reveals About Nanomedicine

   Although the science of nanomedicine is still in its infancy, it has major potential applications in treating diabetes as detailed by Martinac and Metelko.3 These authors describe the Ferrari and Desai implantable nanomedical device, which contains pancreatic beta cells from animals.3,4 The intention of this device is the temporary restoration of the body’s delicate glucose control feedback loop without the need of powerful immunosuppressants.4

   Another application of nanotechnology is known as the SmartCell, which was originally developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When glucose rises in the bloodstream, the structure of the SmartCell will be eaten away. This breakdown of the SmartCell’s protein matrix facilitates the release of insulin.5

   Finally, Pickup and colleagues report several nanomedicine advancements and their potential in diabetes research and practice.6 These include the use of non-invasive glucose monitoring via implanted nanosensors. The key techniques include fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) and fluorescence lifetime sensing as well as new nano-encapsulation technologies for sensors such as layer-by-layer (LBL) films.6 Researchers also note that nano-encapsulation technology might achieve better insulin delivery in diabetes via improved islet encapsulation and oral insulin formulations.6

   Yacoby and Benhar recently reviewed nine clinical studies of nanomedicine-oriented applications of antiseptics, disinfectants and antibacterial therapeutics.7 The first six studies described synthetic nanomaterials with antibacterial activity. The last three studies involved bio-inspired antibacterial nanomedicines, applications based on biological substances.


Dr Smith,
Very throughout article on nano technology. You say that it is believed that we will not start actively using this tech till the year 2020. I believe it will be much sooner then that. I have read many current articles that state that we are very close to coming out with multiple treatments that utilize nano technology to one degree or another. It all looks very promising!

Tulsa Podiatrist

I agree that we are closer than 2020, I have also read articles that state 4 years to be the estimated time.

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