Physics and the Future of Medicine

3 Dec 2012 - 6:00pm to 7:00pm
Martin Wood Complex, Department of Physics, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PU
General public (Age 14+)

Physics and the Future of Medicine

Dr Sonia Contera

Physics has always contributed to biological and medical research: from the invention of the optical and electron microscope, to x-rays and MRI. But in the last 10 years an increasing number of physicists are moving to biological and medical research attracted by the new possibilities of the field. Physicists are constructing a new generation of microscopic (in fact nano-scopic) techniques that allow them to visualise single biological molecules and their function one by one in their native environments, and also to interrogate them, stretch them, push them, shake them, in a way that has never been possible before. This activity coordinated with a parallel development of the physics of cells, tissues, living organisms and complexity of biological networks is creating an increasingly active experimental and theoretical Biological Physics community worldwide.

The fundamental building blocks of life - DNA, proteins - are nano-sized systems. At the molecular level a lot of biology happens at the nm-scale. DNA (diameter ~ 2nm) and proteins (typically ~ 3 - tens of nm), are effectively complex nanomachines fine-tuned by evolution; their function, their movements, their mechanics, and their interactions with each other (i.e. their Physics) in health and disease can be studied, and targeted, with new nanotechnology tools.

This convergence of physics and biology (and chemistry and material sciences) at the nanometre scale has led to the emergence of Nanomedicine. Nanomedicine is the use of nanotechnology to create radically improved research, diagnosis and treatment of disease that can reach the single-molecule level. Nanotechnology is helping to create a revolution, a paradigm shift in the way we treat and diagnose disease; current research focuses on areas such as new targeted drug-delivery systems, nanomaterials to restore damaged tissues, and extremely accurate biosensing devices. Nanomedicine offers hope for understanding the biology and finding new treatments for e.g. spinal cord injuries, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and cancer. In this talk I will review the current state of this research and my own work in the field.

IMAGE: Single bacteriorhodopsin molecules dynamics imaged by a high-speed atomic force microscope

Mini Bio

Sonia Contera is a tenured University Lecturer at Oxford Physics Department and co-director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Nanotechnology (former Institute of Nanoscience for Medicine) at the Oxford Martin School, co-I at the Centre for Advanced Materials at Harwell Research Centre and Senior Research Fellow at Green Templeton College Oxford.

Sonia giving a talk at Wired 2011


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