The Future Technology of Nanorobotics in Health Care
It’s the year 2025. You’re at the hospital for surgery on your hip. As the surgeon walks in, you’re feeling a bit uncertain about how things will go. It’s been awhile since your last visit, but rather than giving you some anaesthetic to go under the knife, the surgeon takes out a small needle and syringe. Inside the syringe are millions of microscopic robots, tiny machines that are injected into your bloodstream.
The use of nanotechnology has the potential to completely revolutionise health and medicine in much the same way that antibiotics once did
Once injected, these nanorobots automatically get to work and locate the surgery site. The robots cut out the injured tissue, remove dead cells, stimulate and guide the regrowth of healthy cells. They release drugs to reduce pain and inflammation. All this happens while you’re sitting in the waiting room, eating a sandwich, enjoying a book. You don’t feel a thing.
Sound like science fiction? The future’s closer than you think.
The rise of nanorobotics offers some exciting possibilities in health care and medicine. Whether painless surgeries, optimised drug delivery, or even wholesale construction of body parts, the use of nanotechnology has the potential to completely revolutionise health and medicine in much the same way that antibiotics once did.
According to Google’s top futurist, Thomas Frey, with the help of future technologies such as nanorobotics, no human being should ever need to die.
Scientists use the term nanotechnology to refer to machines and materials that are incredibly small in size. The ability to manipulate structures at this sub-microscopic scale is like having a Swiss Army Knife for handling individual cell and virus components, even down to single strands of DNA.
In the last few years, researchers have already achieved breakthroughs that are taking us to the brink of these invisible life savers being commonplace.
Nanorobotics to Treat Cancer Patients
A leukaemia patient, given just six months to live, is now receiving an injection of DNA nanobots which are engineered to eliminate cancerous cells, while leaving healthy tissue unharmed.
Injecting nanorobots into your blood to kill cancer cells sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie. But in late 2014, nanotech scientists working in Israel announced that DNA nanobots will soon be tested in a critically ill leukaemia patient.
Professor Ido Bachelet (formerly of Harvard University and currently a faculty member at the Bar-Ilan University) and his team of nanoscientists have already used nanorobotic methods successfully in cell cultures and animals. A leukaemia patient, given just six months to live, is now receiving an injection of DNA nanobots which are engineered to eliminate cancerous cells, while leaving healthy tissue unharmed.
How does it all work?
Bachelet calls the technology “DNA origami,” designed and constructed in a similar way to cells in the immune system. The barrel-shaped devices are about 35 nanometres in diameter, and contain antibodies inside that target certain types of cancer cells.
Once the nanorobots reach a leukaemia cell, they automatically release their payload in order to stop the leukaemia cells from growing. It’s a far cry from invasive surgery or blasts of radioactive drugs, which can do just as much damage to the body as the disease itself.
If the treatment is successful and backed by more research, it could signal a watershed moment in treating cancer and provide fresh hope for the millions of people with cancer worldwide.
The Next Decades in Health Care Nanotech
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have completed an exploratory study showing that it may be possible to produce these drugs inside the body, right at the target site.
Following these promising developments for cancer patients, there are other potential applications for nanorobotics in health care. Here’s what experts predict that nanotechnology will be able to achieve in the future:
Drug-Making Inside the Body: While scientists have developed a range of useful drugs, the body breaks most of them down before the active ingredients reach their intended destination. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have completed an exploratory study showing that it may be possible to produce these drugs inside the body, right at the target site.
These self-assembling “nanofactories” would need some way of being switched on and off, but could one day be the solution to curing the most difficult forms of tumour cells.
Delicate Surgery: A robot that lives in your eye could be the next step in nanotechnology. Swiss researchers have developed bots to help with delicate eye surgeries. At just 0.25mm. in diameter (about the size of four human hairs) these bots have retractable needles and are powered by electromagnets around the patient’s head.
Over time, the researchers hope to shrink the robot down to nano size and explore further uses of the technology. Nanorobotics could help surgeons tackle procedures currently too difficult or dangerous to perform now.
Health Monitoring: Forget the Apple Watch and FitBit bands, soon you may be monitoring your vitals from the inside.
Nanorobotics could help surgeons tackle procedures currently too difficult or dangerous to perform now.
Electrical Prescriptions (ElectRx) is a U.S. government-funded program that aims to develop tiny medical implants that continuously monitor and give feedback about your body’s condition, and even trigger self-healing. These devices will transmit tailored electrical impulses to help treat immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, and even provide treatment for mental health problems such as epilepsy, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The hope is that these “intelligent pacemakers” will replace medications and other brain implants already in use today.
A Fantastic Voyage Awaits
Just as the Internet changed how we communicate, nanotechnology will alter the way we experience medicine. It’s possible that nanotech advances by the late 2030s will produce bodies immune to many of our killer diseases.
But researchers have plenty more work to do before nanorobotics in health care becomes mainstream.
There are big questions to be answered —
- How can we control the nanorobots?
- Are there any long-term risks with having robots in the body?
- Once scientists build these devices to last, how will they be removed from the body?
It’s also possible that the technology could be used to develop nanorobots programmed to perform harmful tasks, such as attack healthy cells. The ethical questions surrounding the use of robots in our bodies should also be explored.
Yet there remains the hope and dream that one day, advances in nanorobotics will help to eliminate virtually all common diseases, and bring about a new utopia with virtually no bodily pain and suffering.
Learn about the new Top Health Care Innovations in Australia
Find out about how medical science is using genetics for targeted treatments – Design a Generation
How are robotics changing medical treatments – I, Robot, Will Help You, Human
Survey Stats: Survey was conducted by Budget Direct in the month of April 2015 with a random selection of 1,000 people.