Dealing as it does with particles at the microscopic level, nanotechnology within medicine is a new and developing area - already being referred to as nanomedicine. Future applications have been identified in terms of Qdots that can locate cancer, nanoparticles that can then deliver drugs directly to cancer cells and even nanoshells that can focus heat from infrared light to cancer cells and destroy them.
In relation to erectile dysfunction, the latest potential applications were revealed at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Urological Association. By applying a composition directly to the skin of the penis an erection can be achieved almost instantly, say the research team led by Professor Kelvin Davies of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
The ‘treatment' works by a slow release of nitric oxide through the skin. This causes smooth muscle to relax and blood vessels to dilate. Blood is then drawn into the penis and an erection is achieved.
So far, experiments have only been conducted with laboratory rats, but scientists have an eye to clinical trials. Unlike medicines such a Viagra, the likelihood is that few if any side effects will occur because the effect of the treatment is completely localised. One of the problems with drugs like Viagra is they can be accompanied by side effects such as facial flushing. Another drawback is the time it takes for the tablet to work.
It is still early days for nanotechnology and a lot of questions regarding safety protocols need to be answered. For example, if the treatment works on the basis of slow release, what might the effects of such a treatment be on the sexual partner? At a broader level, what do we know about the after-effects of such a treatment? Does it break down naturally and quickly or does it linger on in some form inside or outside the body? Hopefully the answers to such questions will be revealed once scientists have got to grips with what looks like a very promising future for medicine.