• Pre-Collegiate Global Health Review

Minuscule Particles, Massive Impact: How Nanomedicine is Changing the Global Healthcare System

Daliya Rizvi, Langley High School, McLean, Virginia, USA

Science fiction films and dystopian novels often warn us of post-apocalyptic worlds run by merciless robots. However, recent technological advances have suggested that nanobots could actually have a positive effect on the world as we know it. In fact, the use of technology at the microscopic level could revolutionize medicine.

Nanomedicine is a growing field focused on the applications of nanotechnology in healthcare. It has led to the creation of various screening and drug delivery tools that can be utilized to reduce healthcare disparities between low and high-income countries (Patra et. al, 2018). These tools have allowed researchers to streamline disease detection, infection treatment, and preventative care measures in a manner that is cheap and effective, which will have a lasting positive impact on the global healthcare system. 

Investments in disease detection reduce strain on healthcare resources and lower mortality rates. Unfortunately, most screening technologies are expensive to maintain, and faulty equipment can result in over-testing, further straining resources. Thus, variations in equipment quality exacerbate the healthcare inequality gap between high and low-income nations. To address this issue, researchers have developed cost-effective disease screening nanobots. These cheap and effective screening tools will narrow the inequality gap by yielding accurate diagnoses and treatment plans, decreasing waste, and consequently reducing mortality rates in low-income nations (Kumar 2018). 

One of the most promising implications of disease detection nanotechnology is in the fight against cancer. Late cancer diagnoses lead to thousands of deaths each year, underscoring the importance of an accurate early detection tool. NanoFlares are made up of nanoparticles and oligonucleotides (short molecules of DNA or RNA) and attach to genetic markers in cancer cells (Randeria et. al, n.d.). They allow physicians to detect cancer DNA early and have saved countless lives, particularly in countries where imaging technology is not readily available. 

The medical applications of nanotechnology extend beyond disease detection. Nanofibers, thin fibers constructed with nanoparticles, can be used to create synthetic organs and tissues (Vasita, 2006). This breakthrough has been significant for burn victims and patients with organ failure and neurodegenerative diseases. In countries where surgery and transplantation are not available to the masses and where black markets for organs are rampant, nanofibers can be utilized to ethically provide organs and tissues for patients. 

Figure 1. Polyaniline nanofiber networks like this one are used in emerging ‘smart’ nanotechnologies, as well as in synthetic tissues (Mao-Chen Liu, 2009). 

In the United States, almost all babies are vaccinated against approximately 14 diseases. Consequently, illnesses such as diphtheria are almost obsolete in American society. However, they continue to cause deaths worldwide, further burdening already strained healthcare systems in countries such as Sierra Leone, where there are .3 physicians for every 10,000 citizens (UNC Global, n.d.). The vaccination gaps for these diseases exacerbate healthcare inequalities. 

Traditional vaccinations are expensive, difficult to store in areas with unreliable electricity, and dangerous due to unintentional cross-contamination in unsterile environments. Thus, many countries are unable to effectively vaccinate their populations, and diseases that are unheard of in wealthy countries deal devastating blows to their health infrastructure. 

Nanopatch vaccines are effective and practical solutions to the vaccination gap. They work by penetrating the outermost layer of skin to reach immune cells and are more cost-effective than regular vaccinations. They can be stored for extended periods and require a fraction of the dosage in traditional vaccinations, making them beneficial alternatives in low-income countries, where they are being used to vaccinate vulnerable populations against various diseases (Clemons, 2016).

Wound infections are not significant healthcare concerns in high-income countries due to the availability of materials to treat injuries. However, in many countries, wounds often become infected due to unsterile materials or a reluctance to seek care (the wound infection rate in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, is almost 3 times higher than in high-income countries). These infections are often transmissible and thus drain healthcare resources. Nanotechnology is being used as the basis for ‘smart bandages’ that kill bacteria and decrease recovery time, preventing infections. They are cost-effective and greatly reduce infection-induced hospital strain, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. This narrows the disparity between lower and higher-income countries by allowing low-income countries to direct resources to more urgent matters. 

The medical applications of nanotechnology cement its status as a long-term player in the global healthcare system. It has changed the way we approach diagnoses, treatments, and preventative healthcare, and will remain a crucial aspect of our fight for a more equitable world.


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