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The concept of nanotechnology, which relies on nano-sized synthetic materials to provide the functionality of automated machines, is nothing new. However, the science of small has moved from electronics into the biological realm. Balancing the benefits and risks of nanotechnology with respect to patient treatment is essential, an expert says.
San Francisco - The concept of nanotechnology, which relies on nano-sized synthetic materials to provide the functionality of automated machines, was introduced a half-century ago. Since then, the science of small has moved from electronics into the biological realm.
"In the last decade, there has been a flood of patents for materials that exploit nanotechnology, and the bulk of those have been in skincare," Dr. Nasir says.
The use of nanoparticles in sunscreen is a widely familiar cutaneous application of nanotechnology, but Dr. Nasir says nanotechnology has also made great strides in hair, nail and eyecare products.
Sunscreens that incorporate nano-sized minerals have many advantages over "macro-sized" sunscreens that absorb ultraviolet light.
"UV-absorbing sunscreens have the disadvantage of potentially being toxic, of not having as broad a spectrum as a physical blocker, and of requiring vehicles that are greasy," Dr. Nasir tells Dermatology Times.
Sunscreens that involve mineral nanoparticles, such as titanium, iron and zinc, physically coat the skin.
"They have a physical, as opposed to chemical, interaction with light and as such they are not as limited by the chemistry of UV absorption and they are broader-spectrum," Dr. Nasir says.
The other advantage in sunscreen, he says, is that when individual mineral particles are shrunk, they are easier to disperse in a vehicle, and they become increasingly soluble. This allows for a vehicle that is cosmetically elegant and an application that disappears into the skin.
The important thing about products made with nanoparticles, Dr. Nasir says, is that they do not always rely specifically on the chemical properties of the nanoparticles - just the size.
"If we continue to make new goods and devices that are very small and precisely engineered, then we should be able to develop a whole new range of products for consumer and medical use, for diagnostics and therapeutics," Dr. Nasir says.
Vaccines are one example of how nanotechnology is being applied in the biologic sciences.
"Topical vaccines that are shrunk to nano size may have the potential for entering into the skin, being taken up by antigen-presenting cells and being used to present antigens of the nano particles to T cells in regional lymph nodes to elicit an immune response," Dr. Nasir says.
According to the literature, nano-topical vaccines can be as effective, or more effective, than their injectable counterparts. Modifications, such as reliable adjuvants and vehicles, may make them consistently superior to standard vaccine technology.
This has implications for ease of administration, transport, manufacture and distribution of vaccines, Dr. Nasir says.
"It dispenses with the whole infrastructure of dealing with sharps and hazardous materials, and it also improves compliance, because it bypasses needle phobia," he says.
"Topical nano-sized vaccines may allow for the better delivery of vaccines, not only here in the United States, but in the rest of the world," Dr. Nasir says.