Nanotechnology in Medicine and its Potential Legal Implications

While two distinct fields, medicine and technology are two areas that are under constant improvement. Medical improvements are necessary to continue to combat new invasive viruses, treat current diseases with no cure, and keep unknown illnesses at bay. Technological improvements are necessary to help create efficient tools for mankind’s everyday use. Accordingly, technology has been a huge factor to help create medical improvements. As a result, a fairly new type of medical and technological improvement has gained exposure: Nanotechnology.

What is Nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is a branch of technology that deals with dimensions and tolerances of less than 100 nanometers, especially the manipulation of individual atoms and molecules. It is science, engineering, and technology conducted at the nanoscale, which is about 1 to 100 nanometers. In comparison, a nanometer is the equivalent width of three to five atom molecules wide. The size of a virus is typically 100 nanometers. Some of the most important application fields of nanotechnology are medicine and pharmaceuticals. Within the medical field, the current applications are: appetite control, cancer, cholesterol, drug development, imaging, medical tools, bone replacement, chemical substitute, diagnostic tests, hormone therapy, and immunosuppressants.

Applications

Because nanotechnology allows scientists to attack illnesses at a molecular level, there are many applications for the technology in the medical field. Some common uses are quantum dots and drug and gene delivery.

Quantum dots (“Qdots”) are “semiconductors that emit or absorb light under specific conditions that can be manipulated externally.” Qdots, they can be used to locate ill or bad cells and scanners are used to target the previously emitted light from Qdots. As such, its application could target potential tumors in the body and diseased cells in general.  

The targeted drug and gene delivery application allows for the identification of ill cells in the body. With the help of Qdots, needed medication is delivered to the exact part of the body without harming the healthy cells. Nanotechnology increases efficiency through the use of pills as opposed to complex and time-consuming therapies, which can be costly and less effective.

The future also provides promising use of nanotechnology for tissue engineering and extensive cancer treatment. Such applications would be used to rebuild tissue at a molecular level or even identify and destroy cancer cells before malignant formation is visible.

Potential Legal Implications

Although there is minimal case law that addresses the issues of nanotechnology in medicine,there exists the possibility of harm and injury that may arise from this technology. Because nanotechnology affects the body at a molecular level, cellular injury may be harder to detect. However, as technology improves, it may be easier and may take less time to determine the injury and harm, if any, nanotechnology causes. For example, if the nanotechnology used to fix cancerous cells malfunctions and instead begins attacking healthy cells, this could prove to be detrimental. Shorter attacks on healthy cells may not demonstrate instant signs of harm, but overtime, the body may begin to react to the unknown effects and show signs of harm and injury.

Other legal implications that may arise seem to appear in nanotechnology’s most important benefit – early detection of diseases. One issue arises through the use of Qdots in nanotechnology. Once Qdots are used to illuminate the ill cells, doctors and medical professionals diagnose the issue and begin to treat the ill cells, or in this case the disease. However, misdiagnosis or failure to treat may create legal implications like malpractice suits. Also, a cure or treatment may not be available at the time of diagnosis, which may lead to more legal implications.

Lastly, potential legal implications may arise from a failure to warn about the risks inherently involved with nanotechnology usage. Although this aspect is pretty common in malpractice suits against doctors, it is important to note that in this instance the harm occurs at a microscopic level. Thus, as stated above, overtime, such damage may have detrimental effects to the human body.

Overall nanotechnology is an exciting advancement in the medicinal world. It can be very efficient and effectuate change in untapped ways. Its potential is limitless. Unfortunately, new technology in the medicinal field implies new harms and risks. Looking at the current applications of nanotechnology, the medical benefits may outweigh the risks and harms involved.

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