Medical nanotechnology is a branch of nanotechnology which applies principles in this field to health care issues. Nanotechnology is a broad spectrum of scientific endeavors which involves manufacturing and machining which take place on a molecular scale. There are a number of potential applications for medical nanotechnology, and in its early phases, many people were quite excited about the huge changes which could occur in the medical world with the assistance of medical technology.
Because nanotechnology operates on such a small scale, it offers the opportunity to create precisely targeted surgical instruments, drug delivery systems, and implants. Nanobots, for example, could be used to perform a non-invasive medical imaging study inside the body, or to perform surgical procedures. Nanomaterials can also be implanted into the body; for example, someone with a badly damaged bone or joint could be treated with nanoparticles which would promote new growth, regrowing the damaged tissue.
Medical nanotechnology also makes cell repair on a molecular level possible, and provides a number of opportunities for medication administration. Drugs developed through nanotechnology could directly penetrate cells, for example, or nanoparticles could be designed to target cancer cells, delivering medication or providing a focal point for radiation. Medical nanotechnology can also be used to make biosensors which can be implanted into patients for monitoring, along with medical devices which are designed to be permanently implanted such as pacemakers.
This field also has a number of implications for prosthetics. Nanomaterials could be used to give people greater control over prosthetic limbs, and potentially to do things like restoring function to the eyes. Several militaries have invested in medical nanotechnology for the purpose of developing new treatments for injured soldiers. The field also creates a potential for the development of devices which could enhance human function, much to the delight of science fiction authors around the world.
Some concerns have been raised about the use of nanomaterials in the medical field. Some people are worried that nanoparticles could interfere with normal body function, making people sick, or that nondevices could get out of control, resulting in activities beyond those for which they are designed. Thus, much of medical nanotechnology is focused on making it safe for patients and medical providers. The history of medicine is filled with examples of concepts and procedures which were initially viewed with deep skepticism and later widely embraced; most people today, for example, widely accept that they should wash their hands regularly, but this idea was heretical when it was introduced in the 1800s.