Nanotechnology involves the science and technology of devices and materials, such as drug delivery systems or electronic circuits, that are created on extremely tiny scales - as small as molecules and even atoms.
Nanotechnology (nanotech) is defined as the manipulation of matter on an atomic, molecular, and supramolecular scale. The earliest, widespread description of nanotechnology referred to the particular technological goal of precisely manipulating atoms and molecules for fabrication of macro-scale products, also now referred to as molecular nanotechnology. A more generalized definition of nanotechnology was subsequently established by the National Nanotechnology Initiative, which defines nanotechnology as the manipulation of matter with at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometers.
The U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative Defines the term "nanotechnology" as:
Nanotechnology also involves manipulation of structure matter at molecular levels, involving different fields and specialties such as chemistry, engineering, electronics, medicine and others. All of these fields of study and pursuit are concerned with bringing existing technologies down to a very tiny scale that is measured in, 'nanometers,' which is a billionth of a meter, or about the size of six carbon atoms in a row.
The processes used both today and in the past in the creation of industrial products have involved pushing piles of millions of atoms together through mixing, grinding and heating, a process that is very imprecise. Scientists are now able to pick up individual atoms and assemble them into structures, or cause particular chemical reactions. For example, propellers have been attached to molecular motors and electricity has been conducted through, 'nanowires.' 'Nanotubes,' made of carbon are being investigated for use in a variety of both research and industrial purposes. As the future approaches, the use of nanotechnology might find scientists able to harness the forces that operate at the scale of the nanometer, such as the Van Der Waals force. They may be able to harness the changes in the quantum states of particles for engineering purposes.
Nanomedicine is defined as the medical application of nanotechnology. Nanomedicine ranges from the medical applications of nanomaterials, to nano-electronic bio-sensors, and even possible future applications of molecular nanotechnology. Current problems for nanomedicine involve understanding the issues related to toxicity and environmental impact of nanoscale materials (materials whose structure is on the scale of nanometers, i.e. billionths of a meter).
One of the promising aspects of nanotechnology where improvement of the quality of human life is concerned includes the potential for new treatments for disease. Tiny autonomous robots or, 'nanobots,' might one day be sent into a person's body to cure cancer or repair cells, or possibly even extend the person's life span by a number of years. At this time the simple devices that have been created by nanotechnology are not of the complexity envisioned with nano-machines and nanobots.
With the significant progress in understanding the genetic basis of biochemical pathways that are involved in both injury and disease processes, there is a great need for highly-sensitive, real-time monitoring and detection technologies. Nanotechnology may be used to design diagnostic systems that are multi-functional and multi-analytic; ones that not only define early stage changes or progression of disease states, but also identify unique biological molecules, structures and chemicals. There are nanotechnologies related to imaging for metastasis, inflammation, and angiogenesis that are emerging. Nanotechnology and nanoscience are presenting new opportunities for the treatment and management of traumatic injuries and diseases. Multi-functional materials on nano-scales that capitalize on progress in proteomics and genomics are allowing targeted delivery of molecular therapies with enhanced efficacy.
Studies that use nanotechnology concepts and techniques and focus on biological processes have the potential to provide new insight into the physical relationships between cellular components and functional irregularities that trigger pathological abnormalities. Nanoscience and the technologies emerging from it offer a means of controlling the design and assembly of biomolecular processes that are very relevant to health and disease. In another example, while the processes involved in energy conversion offer a means of constructing a biomolecular machine through enzymology and structural biology have been studied for a number of years, nanotechnology and nanoscience present a means of creating a biomolecular machine that uses biological energy sources in new ways.
Nanotechnologies, applied to the medical field, could allow doctors to search out and destroy the very first cancer cells that would otherwise have caused a tumor to develop. Nanotechnologies could remove a broken portion of a cell and replace it with a miniature biological machine, or deliver medicines exactly where and when they are needed. Nanomedicine is an offshoot of nanotechnology, and refers to highly-specific medical intervention at the molecular scale for curing diseases or repairing damaged tissues. The pursuit of nanomedicine on the part of researchers at the National Institute of Health (NIH) began several years ago, with results expected within ten years of their launch date in 2005.
Research into nanotechnology started with discoveries of unique chemical and physical properties of various carbon-based or metallic materials which only appear for structures at nanometer-sized dimensions. The ability to understand the scale of these properties allows engineers to build new structures and use the materials in new ways. The same thing is true for biological structures inside living cells within the human body. Researchers have been able to develop powerful tools to categorize the parts of cells in great detail; they are aware of a great amount of detail concerning how intracellular structures operate.
The questions that remain involve things such as, 'How many, ' 'how big,' and, 'how fast' They must find the answers to these kinds of questions in order to fully understand cellular structures and gain the ability to repair them, or build new nanotechnology structures that can safely operate inside the human body. Once scientists have achieved this, they will be able to work with others to build better diagnostic tools and engineer nanoscale structures for specific treatments of diseases or tissues that have been damaged.
The NIH established a national network of eight Nanomedicine Development Centers to serve as the intellectual and technological centerpiece of the NIH Nanomedicine Roadmap Initiative. The centers are staffed by research teams that include physicians, biologists, engineers, mathematicians, and computer scientists. The initial phase of the program found the centers pursuing research aimed at gathering extensive information about the chemical and physical properties of nanoscale biological structures. Because of the catalog the NIH has been able to create, they are gaining a greater understanding of nature's rules of biological design that will enable their researchers to correct defects in unhealthy cells. The research requires the development of new devices for a broad range of biomedical applications, such as detecting infectious agents or metabolic imbalances, with new and tiny sensors, replacing items inside of cells with new nanoscale structures, or generating miniature devices that have the capability to search for and destroy infectious agents.
During phase two of the Nanomedicine initiative, the fundamental knowledge and developed tools they have acquired will be applied to both understanding and treatment of disease. The centers will continue their pursuit of knowledge, expanding it in regards to the science of nano-structures in living cells. They will gain the capability to engineer biological nano-structures, apply their knowledge, tools, and devices - and focus on targeting specific diseases.