What You Need to Know About Nanotechnology in Medicine
by Claudia S. Copeland, Ph.D.
Did you know that nanofabric paper towels for oil spill cleanup can absorb more than 20 times their weight in oil, potentially saving countless birds, other wildlife and biological habitat after oil spill accidents? Or that nanomaterials can mimic the crystal mineral structure of human bone for improved bone repair? Nanotechnology — the science of materials sized 1-100 nanometers — has applications in fields from solar energy to drug delivery. While electronics engineering often dominates the discussion when it comes to nanotech, there’s a wide range of biological nanotech applications, as well. From wildlife protection to human medicine and wellness, nanotechnology is a new frontier with vast biological application potential.
Nanotechnology in Ecological Rehabilitation and Protection
In addition to nanofabric, other nanotechnology applications are being created for cleaning up oil spills including systems in which magnetic, water-repellent nanoparticles bind to oil molecules in order to remove them from bodies of water. Nanotechnology is also being used to develop sensors for pollutants that can be toxic to wildlife or humans. Nanotechnology is helping to protect natural ecosystems in indirect ways, as well. Nanotech approaches are leading to improved efficiency in solar energy.
Nanotechnology in Medicine
Medical applications of nanotechnology include materials for dental reconstruction, nanoparticles that mimic biological macromolecules (for example, HDL-like nanoparticles and nanoparticles that work with macrophages to clear atherosclerotic plaques), materials used in medical imaging and nanoparticles used to target cancer treatments specifically aiming at tumor tissue. In pharmacy, hydrogels can protect sensitive chemicals like drugs from environmental harm. In biotechnology, gold nanoparticles are used in probing DNA for specific sequences. In infectious disease research, biomedical scientists are working to develop a nanotechnology-based universal flu vaccine scaffold that could be used to more efficiently create the annual vaccine needed for that year’s seasonal flu strain.
One particularly important and broad-reaching area being addressed by medical nanotech is drug solubility. Drug solubility is at the heart of an issue pharmacologists have been concerned with for more than 100 years: low bioavailability of fat-soluble drugs, also known as lipophilic drugs. Fat-soluble drugs, traditionally called hydrophobic (meaning water fearing), become isolated from water-based solutions which comprise most of the fluids in our bodies. You can mix these drugs together mechanically, but, like oil-and-vinegar salad dressing, fat-soluble compounds will eventually become isolated — first, in tiny bubbles, then in larger bubbles that grow until the hydrophobic substance is completely separate from the aqueous (water-based) one.
This is a serious problem with fat-soluble drugs because rather than dispersing in intestinal fluid, they will tend to become isolated in bubbles that simply pass through a patient’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Molecules that are hydrophobic on one end (able to hold on to the fat-soluble drug) and hydrophilic (water loving) on the other end (able to hold on to water molecules) allow hydrophobic and hydrophilic substances to mix in a process called emulsification. These molecules (called surfactants — surface acting agents) are used to build nanocarrier structures that form the basis of nanoemulsions — solutions that can dissolve both fat-soluble and water-soluble compounds. Nanoemulsions can transform a drug that is useless (because it cannot be absorbed) into an effective treatment that is absorbed into the body and taken to the site of action where it is needed. The development of sophisticated nanostructured lipid carriers for this purpose is at the forefront of research in lipophilic drug bioavailability.
Nanotechnology for Enhanced Well-Being
Compounds for optimizing wellness, like fat-soluble vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and other fat-soluble bioactive compounds, face the same issues with bioavailability as disease-treating drugs that are fat soluble. Even though you can dissolve such compounds — for example, cannabinoid (CBD) — in oil, they only exert their biological functions anywhere between 2-10 percent because of poor bioavailability. Good bioavailability — the ability to get to the part of the body where the compounds can have an effect — requires emulsification of the compounds to effectively make them water soluble.
Achieving this solubility, however, can get complicated. Much work has gone into manipulating solubility in order to enhance bioavailability with the newest and most exciting innovations making use of nanoparticles. Examples include polymeric micelles — tiny bubbles that are nonpolar on the inside but polar on the outside — allowing the encapsulation of hydrophobic molecules and nanoemulsions — colloidal systems that carry fat-soluble vitamins or other fat-soluble substances.
One of the most exciting applications of nanotechnology for wellness supplements is nano CBD. Delivering CBD in a nanoemulsion can effectively make this highly hydrophobic wellness compound into a water-soluble one. In addition, delivering a full-spectrum cannabis extract in a nanoemulsion means bioavailability of all the other compounds in the cannabis plant. This is thought to be important because of the entourage effect in which other cannabinoids work synergistically with CBD to optimize the beneficial effects of the CBD.
You may be wondering if a hemp nanoemulsion will also dissolve tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The answer is yes. If manufacturers are starting with a strain of cannabis that contains THC (which is most strains). In order to get the full entourage effect without THC, Curatio uses a special strain of hemp with a low amount of THC. This is the starting point for Curatio’s full-spectrum CBD. The custom hemp strain that Curatio uses has been specially bred to provide a truly full-spectrum product with all the cannabinoids and other phytocompounds present in their natural ratios — except for THC. Further, what little THC is present is converted into 3% cannabinol (CBN) through Curatio’s unique, proprietary technology. What’s left is a full-spectrum, but THC-free, botanical extract with 15% additional cannabinoids that has a more potent outcome when compared to traditional .03% THC full spectrum products. Furthermore, harnessing nanoemulsion technology with this unique extract, Curatio has created a CBD ratio that is truly full-spectrum, THC-free and highly bioavailable for optimal cannabinoid-conferred wellness effects.
Dr. C.S. Copeland holds a Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology from Tulane University and a B.A. in neuropsychology from the University of California at San Diego. She has been a scientific writer, editor and translator since 2008.