By definition, nanotechnology is the science of studying objects that are 1 to 100 nanometers in scale, such as molecules and atoms. The prefix “nano” means one billionth or 10-9, meaning one-billionth of a meter. To put this in perspective, DNA is 2.5 nanometers in diameter and one strand of hair is 100,000 nanometers in diameter.
To observe objects on a nano-scale, a typical light microscope you see in laboratories will not do the trick. Researchers use much higher powered microscopes, such as scanning electron microscopes that can allow visualization of objects at up to a million times magnification versus a light microscope which only allows 1,500 times magnification. Other microscopes to view at a nanoscale are scanning tunneling microscopes (STM) and atomic force microscopes (AFM).
The last few years have heralded great advances in biomaterial science and nanotechnology, especially polymeric nanoparticles (NPs), which are tunable in terms of biomaterial composition to optimize delivery of potentially therapeutic molecules.
What The ALS Association is Doing
There is growing interest in using nanotechnology as a delivery tool for ALS and we encourage proposals in this area. We are announcing funding of a novel nanotechnology grant in the near future.
Delivery of small molecules and trophic factors across the blood brain barrier continues to be a challenge for the disease. There is an increased understanding about the biology of the disease with a growing number of tractable targets for drug development. Enhancing methods of delivery and imaging technologies to establish whether drugs have reached the desired target will significantly advance the field and nanotechnology approaches warrant further investigation and investment.
Why It Matters
Nanotechnology provides an efficient method to optimally deliver potential ALS therapeutic molecules to specific cells to inhibit ALS disease processes. For example, labeled tracers, that glow under MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)/PET (positron emission tomography) can be delivered to the body via NPs. These may be suitable to specifically identify and track targeted cells, form deeper investigation of how the targeted cell plays a role in ALS disease and monitor the NP bio distribution throughout the body. They can also be used for diagnostic purposes, such as the delivery of gold nanoparticles to detect early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and diagnosis of atherosclerosis.