From rebuilding damaged cells atom-by-atom to creating micro-robots that swim through arteries destroying pathogens and cancer, nanomedicine promises to change forever how we treat sickness.
In 1959, Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman declared that we would one day learn to move individual atoms around, place them precisely where we want, and bond them together. By doing this, Feynman said, we could build, tear apart, or modify any object made of atoms, including our bodies.
Nanotech pioneer Eric Drexler, in his 1980s book, Engines of Creation, agreed with Feynman and expanded the concept. Drexler said that this miracle science would one day allow us to repair all damages sustained by the body. It will heal wounds, eliminate infections and cure diseases, and because each of these conditions is the result of atoms being in the wrong place, putting them back where they belong corrects the problem instantly.
Nanomedicine’s workhorse is the nanobot, described by Institute for Molecular Manufacturing’s Robert Freitas: “The ultimate tool of nanomedicine is the medical nanorobot the size of a bacterium, composed of many thousands of molecule-size mechanical parts perhaps resembling macro scale gears, bearings, and ratchets; possibly composed of a strong diamond-like material.”
“A nanorobot will need motors to make things move and manipulator arms for dexterity and mobility,” Freitas says. “It will have a power supply for energy, sensors to guide its actions, and an onboard computer to control its behavior.”
“However, unlike regular robots,” he adds, “nanorobots will be very small. A nanorobot that would travel through the bloodstream must be smaller than the red cells in our blood – tiny enough to squeeze through even the narrowest capillaries in the human body.”
Medical nanobots hold the greatest promise for curing disease, extending human health, and one day, a few bold future watchers predict, this wonder tool could even eliminate death. With diligent effort, positive futurists believe the first fruits of advanced nanomedicine could appear in clinical trials by mid-to-late 2020s.
Dick Pelletier is a weekly columnist who writes about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He's also appeared on various TV shows, and he blogs at Immortaltech.
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