We live in an age when science fiction is very literally becoming a reality, and when the things that we can do genuinely defy belief at times. Take for instance gene doping – here scientists have literally unraveled our genetic code and have learned how to ‘program’ and design our bodies to be any shape they want. In miraculous studies they have managed to give mice transparent skin, huge muscles and glow in the dark coloring from a single injection – and some predict that the 2012 Olympics might see ‘black market’ use of gene doping on people.
One of the most incredible innovations in recent times though is nanotechnology, and this has countless potential applications. One area where there is a lot of potential use for nanotechnology for instance is medicine, and here there are countless different applications that could save lives and help us to better understand the human body – and all of it is straight from a science fiction novel. Here we will examine what those applications are and how they can be used.
What Is Nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology is essentially any technology but on a microscopic level. In order to class as a nanotechnology, the device has to be one atom thick or smaller on one or more of its dimensions. This then means it can be used in many areas where normal technology would be too invasive or too cumbersome, and can take the form of sprays and injections.
This is absolutely ideal for medicine which is a subject that involves looking at patients on a microscopic level – viewing their individual cells and working inside and alongside their body. With nanotechnology, intelligent and varied devices can be injected, swallowed and even absorbed without causing too much stress to the patient, and which can then interact with or report back on a range of different areas.
For instance nanobots are microscopic robots which have a lot of promise for medicine – being able to travel around inside the patient’s body and perform a range of important functions such as repairing cells or releasing hormones or medicine. Alternatively nanobots might even be utilized in order to build more nanobots which would save hugely on time and cost when using this method. These nanobots meanwhile would be controlled by nanocomputers either inside the nanobots or remotely. At the same time nanotechnology allows for the creation of new materials and substances that can be used by the patients and these can be used to repair and replace parts and aspects of existing biological structures and organs.
There are many potential benefits of using all these things and the imagination of scientists and medical experts is truly incredible. These benefits include:
Immune Function and Cancer Treatment
The way our immune system currently works is by releasing chemicals that target and destroy certain cells and bacteria through specific reactions. The problem is that some bacteria and viruses replicate too quickly to be destroyed by the immune system and at the same time others can adapt and become immune. Chemotherapy attempts to mimic the immune system through the use of chemicals that target cells at certain stages of their life cycle (the life cycle that cancerous cells spend most of their time in). The problem though is that these chemicals also attack some healthy cells resulting in severe side effects, and that sometimes they don’t manage to destroy the cancerous cells fast enough. With nanobots however you could have a team of self replicating robots with more controllable and advanced ways of detecting cancerous cells, bacteria and the like. These would then be able to travel through the blood stream and destroy on sight anything that could cause damage to the patient – or even repair things or neuter them to make them harmless.
As well as destroying faulty cancerous cells, nanotechnology could also be used to repair damaged cells by manipulating them on a microscopic molecular level.
Aging and Heart Disease
Nanotechnology could erase signs of aging, both cosmetic and health related. They could do this by cleaning out arteries to lower blood pressure, by rebuilding heart tissue, and by replacing and repairing damaged skin cells. As the sarcomeres at the end of the DNA strands shorten, death would still eventually be a reality as the cellular defects became too much for even a legion of nanobots to handle. However the visible signs and many of the associated health problems could be all but eliminated for a long time.
For exploring the human body and identifying illnesses, nanobots with attached cameras would of course be highly beneficial and would result in a lot less discomfort and a lot greater control than current cameras that are used.
Implants such as the contraceptive implant would no longer be necessary. The purpose of these is to sit inside the arm of the patient or wherever it has been injected, and then to release hormones to help make chances to the hormone balance. This is of course also useful for other drug delivery and could see the end of people having to take tablets for life.
These nanodevices are designed in order to move other devices around the body and to arrange other nanostructures.
Nanodevices could be used to stem bleeding and help the body to heal a range of different wounds in much the same way as its own immune system and could thus be used as an emergency treatment to help give injured patients long enough to receive treatment. Bone repair could also be achieved through the use of nanotechnology to ‘knit’ bones back together using a range of different compounds – and this could even help to repair otherwise reversible back injury.
Nanotechnology could be used as a form of biofeedback to give individuals a range of statistical information regarding the state of their own body. This could be used then for instance to alert diabetic patients as to their blood sugar level, or to report back on blood pressure. Of course this could be used in conjunction with drug delivery to deliver things like insulin based on that information. This could also be used for medical monitoring and records, so that doctors can keep a close eye on the status of outpatients, and so that they could quickly learn any relevant information before carrying out medical procedures.
Nanotechnology could be used in order to provide electrical stimulation to the brain and thereby trigger a range of brain functions or inhibit them. This could be used in order to treat psychological disorders such as depression, to prevent developmental problems such as autism, and even to help people overcome injury and regain control of limbs (and it could provide a control method for artificial limbs).