Tech News: Nanotechnology at the centre of big innovations

By Louis Fourie Time of article published Mar 20, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, nanotechnology is driving some of the world's greatest innovations and breakthroughs in science.

One of the fastest-growing nanotechnology fields is biomedicine, where the sheer number and range of innovations makes it hard to stay abreast of the newest developments.

Many of these breakthroughs made over the past few months could significantly change the quality of peoples’ lives in the future. Scientists from Michigan State University and Stanford University in the US have invented a nanoparticle that removes the plaque that causes heart attacks.

In the Nature Nanotechnology of January 27, associate professor Brian Smith and a team of scientists published an article that describes how they created a “Trojan Horse” nanoparticle that can be guided to eat debris, reducing and stabilising plaque.

This discovery is an important breakthrough in the potential treatment for atherosclerosis, which is one of the leading causes of heart disease, stroke and death in South Africa.

The nanoparticle has a high selectivity for macrophages (a cell responsible for detecting and destroying germs) and once inside the macrophages in the plaques, it delivers a drug agent that stimulates the cell to surround and devour dead and dying cells.

The macrophage-specific nanotherapy removes the dead cells in the core of the plaque. By reviving the macrophages through the delivery of nanoparticle messages, the plaque size is decreased and stabilised, and the risk of heart attacks reduced.

Scientists at Rice University, Biola University and Texas A&M Health Science Center (US) developed nanodrills to treat skin diseases. The light-activated molecular nanomachines, originally designed to target drug-resistant bacteria, cancer and other disease-causing cells by drilling holes into their cell walls, are now able to kill whole eukaryotic organisms (whose cells have a nucleus such as animals).

Customised nanomachines with spatial and temporal control that target specific tissues for therapy could also be used in a variety of benign and malignant disease states, among others the treatment of cancer, parasites, bacteria and diseased tissues. It could also help to fight drug-resistant pneumonia where antibiotics have proven ineffective, as well as be used for environmental parasite control.

On December 17 a group of researchers from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden published an article in the highly regarded scientific journal ACS Nano, where they explain their creation of a new, nanostructured rubber-like material with a unique set of properties that could replace human tissue in medical procedures.

This mesoporous (a material containing pores with diameters between 2 and 50 nanometres) elastomer (a polymer with elastic properties) could make a huge difference to many people’s lives in the future.

The nanorubber is soft, flexible, extremely elastic, can easily be processed and is, therefore, very suitable for medical use. What makes it so valuable is that the material can be constructed to prevent bacteria to grow on the surface through placing antimicrobial peptides (small proteins, which are part of our innate immune system) on it. This could help reduce the need for antibiotics and thus help in the fight against increasing antibiotic resistance.

Without doubt, the nanoworld of atoms and molecules - where everything is measured in nanometres, or a billionth of a metre - has many more secrets, new materials and incredible innovations to offer that will certainly change our future.

Professor Louis C H Fourie is a futurist and technology strategist. [email protected] For the full version of this article, go to


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