Science just became nano...

Greetings everybody!

It is a very, very special Friday today. Not only because its pinch- punch 1st day of the month... but because you are reading the 100th post published on this amazing blog! 100! That is such an awesome number, so I would like to say a massive thank you to all of you who have kept reading the blog it means a lot to me. 

Enough mushy stuff lets get to the science. Todays post was inspired by a GCSE chemistry topic that carries some major biological potential. Nano science. 

What is Nano science?

Nano-science is the study of structures on a nanoscale such as those seen in the above picture. Structures such as the Micelle,  Liposome, Gold Nanoshell, etc. are classified as nanoparticles measuring 100 nanometers or less across. According to an article published in Science News that is equivalent to a 'thousandth the thickness of a dollar bill'. Crazy small right?
Nano may indicate their size but their effect once inside the body is anything but. Scientists realised that due to their size these particles are able to penetrate deeper than any medicine on the market, opening the door to better medicines and diagnosis. 
When using nanoparticles scientists have a major decision on their hand- what one to use? Interestingly, the properties of nanoparticles vary widely from their full sized counterparts   take Gold as an example when smashed into Nano Gold Particles they become red! After the selection process is complete and you have your nanoparticle you now have to engineer them to carry out a role once inside our body. These roles can be anything! From express delivering drugs to target cells deep in our tissues or fit them with colourful or fluorescent tags that allow you to spot tumorous growths or blocked vessels. 

The possibilities are endless with nanoparticles! For this post however I am going to focus on two major medical applications for this technology. 

How do they work?


Atherosclerosis is a common condition suffered by people with cardiovascular disease. It occurs when the bodies blood vessels (arteries, veins and capillaries) become blocked by fatty deposits on the vessel wall (in the picture below) 

Here is a fun fact 4.55 Litres of blood is pumped through your heart every minute. Take a minute to think about that, and your heart has just pumped 4.55 Litres of blood- again. Once pumped our blood is set on a circuit determined by our bodies circulatory system. In healthy people this is a very smooth journey, however, if you suffer from cardiovascular disease this smooth journey is suddenly riddled with barriers. 
These barriers are of course those fatty deposits mentioned earlier. Over time they begin to form plaques on the vessel walls, this causes the walls to become thicker and less flexible. This process triggers the release of distress signals that are answered by our bodies immune cells. However, the presence of these cells along with the cells in the blood further exacerbate the problem by forming a larger blockage  and further reducing blood flow. 
Vessel blockages have major implications for patients especially if they form in vessels leading to the brain or heart as these could lead to a stroke or a heart attack.

Treatment for this condition is mainly prescribing Statins. This medication doesn't solve the problem but it aids in the management of atherosclerosis by lowering circulating cholesterol a major contributor to the formation of plaques. However, this treatment comes with an increased risk of Diabetes and Liver damage. Nothings perfect.  

This will all change! With the help of nanoparticles. Scientists have been engineering nano missiles that will carry out search and destroy tasks for plaques! They can do these in four ways: 

1. Immune cells respond to distress signals released from blood vessels affected by plaque formations. Once there they attempt to clear the blockage by binge eating the fats gradually becoming a 'foam cell' they send signals of more immune cells to join the bingeing session. Such a build up of immune cells can be used as a biological signpost for nanoparticles to home in on target vessels. In animal studies nanoparticles prevented the  bingeing session entirely and in doing so reduced blockages by 37%.  

2. Engineering nanoparticles to masquerade as HDL. High density Lipoprotein (HDL) is the bodies 'good cholesterol'. It breaks down plaques and transports the debris to the liver where it is broken down. HDL also stops immune cells from forming 'foam cells'. 

3. Statins are not down and out for the count, in fact nanoparticles may catapult them to the front of the line for atherosclerosis treatment. Willem Mulder has designed his particles to deliver statins directly to the plaques. This approach allows for the drug to be administered at a a lower dosage but with a larger effect! 

4. Melina Kibbe has made the blood vessel wall her nanoparticles prime target. Vessels affected by atherosclerosis become damaged and stretched exposing a key structural element called collagen. Her nanoparticle has a protein capable of binding to the target (exposed collagen) attached to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a chemical that once in the body trigger the growth of new cells in wounded areas. However, she did not stop there she also changed her nanoparticle from the characteristic spherical shape to a nano fibre in order to increase the surface area of the particle. 

With clinical trial looking very promising nanoparticles could offer a way out of surgery for patients carrying a high risk of heart attacks or strokes as a cause of atherosclerosis. 


Globally, the majority of deaths caused by cancer are preventable. Prevention strategies such as vaccination programmes, routine screenings make use of some of our best technology and tools but they carry a major limitation. The majority of cancers can remain undetectable for the first 10 years inside a patient at this time tumours can be some 50 million cells strong. Clearly, innovations in cancer treatment as well as cancer detection are required. Such innovations could lie in our nano sized friends. 

This incredible woman on this TED talk I watched used nanoparticles to detect the presence of tumours- this is how it works. Cancerous cells are the ultimate weapon. They are tough and stubborn because they are your cells gone haywire. Like our cells they need a good blood supply to sustain their crazy growth rates. A cancers blood vessels however, are leaky allowing a clear access point for nanoparticles.
When it comes to biology, size does matter.  A nanoparticles size largely dictates where in the body it has access to and where it does not. This nanoparticle was designed to become activated when cancer cells produce an enzyme essential for their success. In addition to this the nanoparticle was also engineered to make detection as simple as possible. When activated by the cancer enzyme the nanoparticle produces a signal that is deposited in the urine. Similar to how a pregnancy test is used, the presence or absence of this signal can be detected from a patients urine.
This nano detecting particle will be able to pick up on even the earliest stages of cancer. 

It is difficult for our bodies immune system to eliminate cancer cells because at the end of the day cancerous cells are our cells. This allows cancer to exploit the lesson taught to all of our immune cells- do not destroy our cells.  Tumours also surround themselves in their own micro-environment,  this simulates the illusion that there is nothing to worry about further throwing immune cells of their attack path. 
The authors of an amazing study featured in Nature  managed to implant a nanoparticle with tumour RNA (carries information of the tumours DNA) and injected it into animals. Once inside the body these engineered nanoparticles carried the tumour RNA to special tissue that contain large numbers of immune cells. Once there the nanoparticles activate the immune cells by simulating a viral invasion inside the body. Activation of these immune cells leads to the activation of the big daddy immune cells known as T cells. Once they have been told how to recognise the tumour cells in the body they are primed and ready to unleash their anti tumour response by eliminating it! 
This is such a promising study for the future role nanoparticles have to play in the fight against cancer.  

Well that was it guys! The blogs 100th post hope you enjoyed it and that you have a greater understanding of nano science!
Science is so amazing the phones went through a miniaturisation age I suppose it was bound to happen for science to. Of course these are in early development and whether using nano particles carries any long term effects on the human body remain unknown. For now it is comforting to say that this branch of science is extremely promising. 

Over and Out

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