Nanomedicine to treat eye diseases

[26/03/2012]

Nanomedicine to treat eye diseases



Nanotechnology is an amazing branch of medicine which offers to bring us to the world of "Star Trek" with the potential treatments it can provide! I remember when I was little, I watched a movie The Fantastic Voyage whereby they shrunk a group of doctors and injected them into a patient so that they could remove a blood clot or something. I was fascinated by this movie and hard to believe that it could actually become a reality at some point in my life time!

Introduction to Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology involves the use of materials the size of intracellular structures (< 100nm). To give an impression of scale; 1 meter = 1 billion nanometers. An average man is 1.6 billion nanometers tall and a single red blood cell is about 7000 nanometers. So nanotechnology works with really really small bits!!

Nanotechnology was conceived by an acclaimed American physicist Richard Feynman (1918-1988). It's application in medicine came naturally as the engineering of devices small enough to transport drugs or to perform specific tasks became possible. The application of this technology in medicine has become known as nano medicine and the eye is a good target for this branch of medicine.

The eye is particularly suitable as:

1) we have 2 eyes; hence, for clinical trials, the effect of treatment can be demonstrated by comparing treatment in one eye compared to the other.

2) the eye is transparent, and therefore, the effects of treatment can be easily monitored

3) the eye is easily accessible and being a small organ, large amounts of nano particles are not required

Retinal diseases are particularly suited to nano treatment as well. The most common cause of blindness in the developed countries is age related macular degeneration (AMD). Currently, the standard of care involves injecting anti-VEGFs into the eye which help control the disease but these injections have to be administered very frequently can can go on indefinitely! Nano particles will have the advantage of improving delivery of drugs which can be slowly released into the eye and making frequent, repetitive injections unnecessary.

I recently talked about gene therapy and stem cells in the treatment of retinitis pigmentosa and other diseases and nano particles are another good way to deliver gene therapy! Other possibilities include imaging of "our insides" and monitoring for disease and maybe even nano surgery if appropriate instruments could be made!

Indeed, this is an exciting branch of medicine and it's applications in ophthalmology are many. I look forward to revolutionary treatments which can provide me with better tools to treat my patients - I hope that they are not too far away!