Catalyst - Little Wonders: Medical Nanotechnology

The most exciting breakthroughs in medicine are happening in the smallest of scales - in the world of micro, nano and quantum technology. By thinking big but working small, scientists are revolutionising how we diagnose and treat medical conditions. We're only just beginning to realise the true potential of these little medical wonders.

A Brief History of Nanotechnology
Over the past decade, tinkering with tiny things has become seriously big business. This pop-up animation by Daniel Keogh helps put nanotechnology in perspective.

Golden Bullety
Gold nanoparticles of various shapes and sizes are proving to useful in medicine, including in the treatments of cancer. Billions of gold 'nanoshells' are infused into the bloodstream to carry proteins that seek out tumours, and once inside, destroy them with heat absorbed from infrared light. Mark Horstman meets researchers using gold nanorods to target mobile pathogens.

Nano-Engineering
Molecular robots may sound like a crazy sci-fi idea, but our bodies are already teeming with DNA and RNA that continually go about their machine like business within our cells. Graham Phillips discovers that research is underway to hack the blue print of Nature's nanobots to help us custom build our own.

Delivering Medicines
Few of us like to receive medicine via a needle, but for people with chronic illnesses, injections are a daily reality. Maryanne Demasi discovers that new technology is helping make drug delivery as simple as taking a deep breath. 'Respire' vibrates drugs, vaccines and other therapeutics, into a mist of particles, just the right size to be absorbed by the lungs.

Imperfect Diamonds
It's not every day that a defect can be considered an advantage - but in the case of a diamond nanocrystal with a nitrogen vacancy, the very imperfection renders it perfect. Tanya Ha meets the team of scientists at Melbourne University responsible for creating a nano-diamond sensor that's providing insider information about cells - including how drugs work and their efficacy.

How Small is it?
Ever had one of those days where you feel small and insignificant? Well take heart, there are plenty of things smaller than you. For instance, an ant is four millimetres long. But that's not so small. The smallest particle visible to the naked eye is a tenth of a millimetre. Beyond the scope of the naked eye, white blood cells are just ten micrometres across. And red blood cells are even smaller - below a millionth of a metre, and we are approaching nano-land, where really small stuff is measured in nanometres.

Year of Production: 2011
Production note: © ABC TV
Duration: 28 mins

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