Nanotechnologies and the Healthcare Sector
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Nanoscale technologies are likely to have a significant impact in the healthcare sector. Of particular interest are the use of smart and sensor materials for diagnosis of disease and infections, the controlled release of drugs leading to reduced doses of medicines being required, and the delivery and targeting of drugs to specific sites such as tumours.
Nanotechnology will have a significant impact on surgical implants that are compatible with the human body, materials built from nanoscale objects for use as tissue scaffolds, and smart materials for organ and limb replacements. There are also promising results for protecting transplanted cells from being attacked by the immune system such as in the case of type 1 diabetes.
Nanoparticle drugs can be used to deliver minute doses of highly active drugs and oxygen to poorly vascularised tissues, “lab-on-a-chip” delivery systems that directly integrate diagnostics with drug delivery and non-invasive therapeutics using heat to treat cancer. Novel heat treating products can be tracked and activated by remotely using conventional electromagnetic fields, (i.e. radio/micro waves), for example targeting and destroying tumours.
Surfaces and coatings
Many types of nano surfaces and coatings have been developed for use as antibacterial coatings, wound dressings and nanocoated stents for tissue engineering. Proposed techniques include seeding of porous, biodegradable scaffolds with donor cells which differentiate and mimic naturally occurring tissues. The identification of signalling systems will allow the promotion of self-healing potential of adult stem cells and aid in development of efficient targeting systems for adult stem cell therapies.
Diagnostic techniques include use of dendrimers in bio-technology assay kits, magnetic nanoparticles as imaging agents and monitoring physiological conditions using sensors containing nanoscale components for point of care diagnostics which can be connected directly for remote monitoring. Another promising diagnostic technique which is expected to be fast and cost effective is the use of nanopores for DNA sequencing.
The combination of improved positron emission tomography, the advanced applications of magnetic resonance techniques and the application of nanotechnologies will enhance both imaging tools and marker/contrast-agents. These functional imaging techniques will lead to more reliable and accurate results, helping progress toward the goal of detecting disease as early as possible.
Are products using nanoscale technologies already on the market?
Yes. Commonly referenced applications for nanoscale technologies include:
• Healing wound dressings using nanosilver,
• Nano-particle drug delivery, leading to a reduced dosage or more effective delivery and targeting
• Antibacterial coatings using nanoscale materials offering an improved level of protection over conventional techniques
• Biocompatible coating for implants, eg. stents.
Managing risks and uncertainties
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is the government agency which is responsible for ensuring that medicines and medical devices work, and are safe. All medical products have to demonstrate safety and efficacy in order to be approved for use by the MHRA.
Nanotechnologies have already impacted on the healthcare sector, however, it is likely to be a number of years before the more exotic and revolutionary diagnostic products fulfil their potential. The healthcare industry will be looking for solutions to the challenges faced by the sector. Nanoscale technology solutions will compliment a range of these emerging solutions including materials, chemical and device technologies. The UK will be well placed to commercialise technologies into final products through the SBRI scheme which the Technology Strategy Board is responsible for.
Below is a SWOT analysis summarising Government understanding, from discussion with stakeholders, of the major strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the UK in this sector. Please help to steer future actions and shape the UK business environment by answering the questions on the right hand side of the page.
Good UK research base in materials, medical engineering, biosciences, clinical research. Over 400 Biotech/Pharma companies and 2000 healthcare technology companies with established infrastructure (such as supply chains) are part of the large National Health Service (NHS) market. The pharmaceutical sector in the UK employs around 73,000 people directly and generates another 250,000 jobs in related industries. Pharmaceuticals and biotechnology contributed to 4% of total UK value added in 2007: worth £25.7billion or £130,024 per employee. For healthcare technologies the UK employs around 55,000 people. In terms of ‘Value Added’ the industry contributed around £47,000 per company employee.
Current cost of nanotechnologies solutions, conservatism amongst the larger pharmaceutical companies and long-product development times may prohibit their widespread introduction. The multidisciplinary nature of the area means that collaboration is important between academia, clinicians and industry; this could be a potential obstacle.
Increasing burden of disease and cost of healthcare provision mean novel, costs-effective solutions are needed for disease prevention, diagnosis and advanced treatments.
Many countries are investing heavily in healthcare research and the drivers to move R&D capability overseas mean opportunities could be lost in developing nanotechnologies solutions into products within the UK. There are concerns that there is currently insufficient information about the lifecycle and toxicity of nanomaterials for use in medical and healthcare applications.