One of the first popular mentions of nanotechnology was the 1989 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Evolution” in which self-aware, nano-scale robots take over the Enterprise.
Though nothing on such a grand scale is lurking around today, nanotechnology – on a rudimentary level – is on the verge of coming into wide use.
Industry journals estimate that in the medical world alone, there are more than 150 nanotech-based drugs and delivery systems in development.
So what will (or could) nano-scale constructions mean for health-care in the next few years?
It could lead to the creation of cell-repair-machines…
Imagine present-day nano-scale manufacturing techniques leading to bacteria-sized mechanizations that could tell one cell from another by touch, repair DNA within a cell, and even be directed by computers to complete multiple missions in the same body.
…(and possibly true nano-robots)
The possibility of actual nano-scale robots (what a lot of people think of when they think of nanotechnology) would completely change medicine. Made from carbon for its strength, such robots would have to be no larger than 3 nanometers at their largest dimension, so they can fit through capillaries and other passageways of the human body critical for their transportation and use. Such robots could be injected into your body, controlled by “nanocomputers”, and monitored via MRI.
It could allow drugs to act faster, in smaller doses
Closer to the present, U.S. medical researchers estimate that close to $70 billion a year is wasted due to poor bioavailability (the presence of drug molecules where they are needed.) Nano-engineered molecular targeting devices could make sure that a drug goes right to the area of the body it’s needed and works for the length of time that area of your body requires. In the future, such drugs could even be triggered to “turn-on” for a specific time, at a specific time.
It could revolutionize early-disease-detection
Nano devices could soon test for ailments on a cellular level via sensor testing chips holding thousands of “nanowires”. These little devices would be able to detect proteins and other biomarkers left by cancer cells. As a result, they could help detect such diseases in their early stages…All from a few drops of your blood.
It could do away with blood leaks in surgery
At Houston’s Rice University, researchers have used a nano-scale “flesh welder” to fuse two pieces of chicken meat into a single piece. To do so, the chicken pieces are placed close enough together to be touching. A liquid full of gold-coated “nanoshells” is then dripped along the seam between the two chicken pieces. With the nano-shell-infused liquid in place, a laser is traced along the seam, causing the two sides to weld together. Such nanotechnology could help mend blood leaks that occur from restitching cut arteries during transplant surgeries.
It could blast cancer away without wrecking the rest of you
Is it possible to make nanoparticles that detect, image, and then destroy cells in a tumor? Treating cancer these days often means subjecting one’s entire body to chemotherapy and the toxic wake it leaves behind. At between 10 and 100 nanometres, specialized nanoparticles could “cook” cancer cells with the help of radio waves or lasers, or do away with tumors by dropping folic acid “lures” directly into cancer cells, leaving adjacent healthy cells undamaged. Now that’s a robot we can all love.