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Nanotechnology for Health: Innovative Designs for Medical Diagnosis

Discover how types of nanotechnology can be used for exciting new opportunities in healthcare.

8,750 enrolled on this course

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  • Duration

    4 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Explore the use and implications of nanotechnology in medicine

Nanotechnology is used to control and manipulate nanometer-sized matter with nanometer precision. This can be atoms, molecules, or larger biological structures such as DNA or living cells.

On this course, you’ll explore the potential of nanotechnology products in medical applications, to create new devices that can be used to diagnose a disease or monitor a medical treatment.

You’ll also consider the ethical impact of new medical nanotechnology and what societal behaviour might be affected by them.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds What has nanotechnology to do with health? That is the topic of this course. Nanotechnology is the technology used to control and manipulate nanometer-sized matter with nanometer precision. In this course, we will show the great potential of nanotechnology. This inspires us to create new devices that can be used to diagnose a disease or monitor a medical treatment. In each week, we will describe three different perspectives. We explain how the devices work and how nanotechnology plays a role. We will furthermore show how these devices are made in our laboratories and clean rooms. All topics have strong links with ongoing research conducted at the MESA and MIRA institutes.

Skip to 0 minutes and 53 seconds The MESA Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Twente is one of the world’s leading nanotechnology research institutes. Over 500 researchers focus on key enabling technologies. We use these technologies for the development of new diagnostic tools for medical applications. And one of these applications is the detection of biomarkers in your breath. This is the topic in the second week. We employ so-called cantilevers. This nanotechnology can be used to detect asthma or differentiate between various lung diseases at an early stage. The MIRA Institute for Biomedical Technology and Technical Medicine at the University of Twente combines fundamental and applied research with clinical practice.

Skip to 1 minute and 37 seconds This unique scientific path stimulates a successful application of fundamental concepts and enables health care to rapidly introduce new treatments. In week three, we will show you how just a single drop of blood can determine the right dose of medication. In the fourth week, we will show you how nanotechnology can detect bladder cancer in urine, an example of early diagnostics where diseases can be detected before a patient shows signs of the disease. The motto of the University of Twente is High Tech, Human Touch. Therefore, we will also discuss ethical, societal, and business implications of these new technologies.

Skip to 2 minutes and 19 seconds We invite you to join this course and hope that you will be as enthusiastic as we are about how small things can make a great difference.


  • Week 1

    Introduction to Nanotechnology and Health

    • Introduction to Nanotechnology

      We introduce you to nanometer sized objects, the field of nanotechnology and nanotechnology in the world around you.

    • Medical diagnostics

      We will show how nanotechnology inspires us to create new devices that can be used to diagnose a disease, or monitor a medical treatment.

    • Cleanroom technology

      Special laboratories, cleanrooms, have been developed to avoid contamination or disturbance during the fabrication or investigation of ever smaller products.

    • High Tech, Human Touch

      What is technology? New technologies can often do more than intended. We explore the societal and ethical implications.

  • Week 2

    Nano and breath: Electronic nose

    • Breath analysis

      We discuss why breath analysis can be interesting for diagnosing specific diseases and how nanotechnology can be used for the analysis. We introduce the project of the electronic nose based on so-called cantilevers.

    • The basics of the electronic nose

      We explain what is needed to turn the idea of using an oscillating cantilever into a working device that a doctor can use.

    • Technology of cantilevers

      This is the technological section of this week: in quite some detail we explain how a physicist describes the oscillation of a cantilever and how the piezoelectric ‘actuator/transducer’ works.

    • Cleanroom technology

      We describe the photolithography process used in the cleanroom to create small structures. Further the fabrication process of the cantilever-based electronic nose is described step by step.

    • Beyond the technology

      New (nano-) technology is not only designed by scientists and technologists, but the requirements of (future) users also play an important role in the development.

  • Week 3

    Nano and blood: Lab-on-a-chip

    • What's in your blood?

      Blood has so many functions it can provide an enormous amount of information on our health and well-being. Blood tests are regularly performed by doctors and patients.

    • A lab-on-a-chip for blood analysis

      Lab-on-a-chip devices are miniaturized labs performing analysis on various possible liquids using small scale sensors.

    • Chip design

      In this activity, we investigate more in detail how an actual chip is designed and what it needs to be able to do.

    • Cleanroom Technology

      Different etching techniques can be used to remove a layer from the surface of a wafer or to create three-dimensional structures in silicon.

    • From bench to business

      Starting a business starts with a solid business case. In each step of the development, many stakeholders can be identified.

  • Week 4

    Nano and urine: Cancer detection

    • What's in your urine?

      Urine has been used for decades to form a diagnosis. Many markers can be found in urine, including DNA fragments, that may be an indication of cancer.

    • Detecting cancer in your urine

      Using urine to detect diseases has advantages and disadvantages. We will discuss the sample treatment needed and how to measure DNA methylation using a microfluidic chip.

    • Cleanroom technology

      After describing the photolithographic process and etching techniques, we will describe a third cleanroom technology: thin layer deposition.

    • Future applications

      Current developments in the lab hold promise for future diagnostic devices. For a successful implementation in clinical practice, early health technology assessment (HTA) can be performed.

    • Early diagnostics: the promise of nanotechnology

      Nanotechnology already had a huge impact in the medical field, but much more is still to come, for example in early diagnostics.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Describe technology and the science of nanotechnology
  • Investigate the relationship between nanotechnology and the medical application
  • Engage in the underlying science and technology and techniques used to fabricate nano devices
  • Discuss societal and ethical questions that arise from new technological developments in the health domain

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone with an interest in nanotechnology or medicine.

Some of the technical sections of the course require undergraduate-level mathematics and physics, but these sections are not required to understand the main part of the course.

Who will you learn with?

I am an assistant professor nanobiophysics at the University of Twente, as well as chairing an applied research group in the field of nanobiotechnology at Saxion University of Applied Sciences.

I am researcher and lecturer at the university of Twente. My research focuses on the growth and understanding of the properties of piezoelectric thin films and the application in devices.

My focus is on the development of microfluidic systems for (bio)medical applications, thereby increasing the knowledge of biological systems and improving the diagnostics and treatment of diseases

I am a researcher nanotechnology at the University of Twente, working on an electronic nose for disease detection in breath, as well as detection of circulating tumour DNA using nanomechanical sensing

I chair the Nanofluidics for Lab on a Chip applications group at the University of Twente. I teach Nanofluidics and Lab on a Chip technology and applications.

Who developed the course?

University of Twente

As a young and entrepreneurial university in the Netherlands, the University of Twente prepares young people to tackle the grand challenges the world will be facing during the coming decades.

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