Image Credits: Kateryna Kon/shutterstock.com
Quantum physics has the potential to revolutionize many aspects of everyday life, and medicine and healthcare are no exception. The laws of quantum physics state the human body is a quantum system, from the smallest vibrations and energy units that communicate with each other. Quantum physics could be the key to solving the current issues in healthcare and herald in a new era of integrative medicines: utilizing the complex rules of quantum mechanics, scientists aim to make medicine faster, less painful and more personalized.
Quantum technology could change the way we think about healthcare and medical data, and even the way we view our biology. Several cell processes occur at the nanoscale, in the domain of atoms and subatomic particles - the realm of quantum. At this scale, matter ceases to behave according to the laws of classical physics and instead starts displaying unique and often counterintuitive properties of quantum mechanics.
Scientists hope to utilize these unusual properties to develop medical tools, diagnostics, and treatments which are incredibly precise and ultra-personalized, tools which will ultimately improve and lengthen lives. Using quantum mechanics in medicine could allow for the detection of disease in the early stages, or different risks of disease before they manifest themselves.
Gold Nanoparticles and MRI
A bio-barcode assay, a relatively new method developed by scientists, could improve disease screening and treatment. Employing gold nanoparticles, it can detect biomarkers in the blood which can be visualized using MRI machines and have unique quantum properties which enable them to attach to disease-fighting cells.
A similar technique involving nanoscale diamond particles is under development at Harvard. Professor of Physics Mikhail Lukin hopes to use the nanoparticles to take images of human cells from the inside to detect disease, without exposing the patient to radiation.
Another technology which utilizes gold nanoparticles is also being developed; gold nanoparticles are programmed to accumulate only in tumors where they can be precisely imaged and destroyed with a laser, without harming healthy cells.
MRI machines themselves could be improved to obtain ultra-precise measurements by employing quantum sensors. They could then be used to view single molecules or groups of molecules on a very small scale to provide a precise picture of what is happening in the body. One company are already retrofitting machines to make them more sensitive and faster by harnessing a phenomenon known as the Josephson effect.
Smaller is Better
If you have a needle phobia, the old adage that smaller is better might ring true. Researchers at the University of York have designed a patch that replaces a single syringe with lots of little polymer nanofilaments that deliver medication through hair follicles. Nanject is capable of delivering cancer drugs without harming healthy cells; nanoparticles coated in antigens are introduced to the body where they bind to cancer cells. An MRI machine is used to heat the nanoparticles which then destroy cancer cells; when the machine is switched off, the nanoparticles cool down and can be removed without harming the patient.
Quantum technology also has the potential to provide information about human biology. Australian scientists have discovered a way to reveal the inner workings of living cells using a new type of laser microscopy based on quantum mechanics. Quantum computers can sequence DNA and solve other big data problems in healthcare at a quicker rate; this could lead to more personalized medicine based on an individual’s genetic composition.
Quantum mechanics also has the potential to make medical health data more secure by utilizing a strange oddity of quantum phenomena to protect data more securely and prevent it being viewed by anyone it is not intended for. The company ID Quantile is already employing quantum entanglement to provide security to banks and governments and believe there is a strong potential for use in the healthcare industry.
Quantum physics has the potential to transform medicine and healthcare; by studying and utilizing matter on the small scale, scientists may have the ability to make healthcare quicker and less painful. Furthermore, it could pave the way for more personalized medicine by making use of the strange quirks of matter at the nanoscale.
Sources and Further Reading