Nano Science and Nanobots

“A hapless store clerk must foil criminals to save the life of the man who, miniaturised in a secret experiment, was accidentally injected into him.” If you think this sounds like an ‘80s action-adventure comedy, then you’d be right. But, just over 30 years on, are we on the verge of making miniaturised lifesavers a reality?

Nanorobotics

Nanorobotics is the technology behind creating robots and machines to a scale of 1 to 100 nanometers - think of it as the size of a marble compared to the size of our planet. Machines of this size can work at a cellular level, which has significant consequences for the future of medical diagnosis, treatment and cure.

But, up until recently, nanorobotics has been largely theoretical and assigned to the dreams of scientists and our memories of ‘80s cinema. However, things are changing

Smart pills

The first FDA-approved smart pill came onto the scene in 2001, known as PillCams. These ingestible cameras have now been used in more than two million procedures and have paved the way for other smart pills, including:

  • The Vibrant Capsule - this vibrating pill encourages muscle contraction, which in turn kickstarts digestion to cure constipation without the use of laxatives
  • The dose tracking pill - this tiny capsule uses sensors to track drug dosage and time to ensure that patients are adhering to their medication
  • The Atmo Gas Capsule - this powerful pill absorbs gases in the gut to provide valuable data that can help diagnose GI disorders, colon cancer and food intolerances
  • The Smart Sensor capsule - this Y-shaped pill lives in the stomach for one month, monitoring health and treatment

Nanobots

While nanobots won’t have quite the same mission as Lt. Tuck Pendleton in Innerspace, they will have some pretty important tasks all the same. Researchers around the world are developing nanobots to enter the body and work in different ways. 

We’re already seeing:

  • Magnetic microsurgery performed by injecting nanobots into the body and directing them using external magnetic fields. This is being used to perform eye surgery, clear blocked arteries, and collect biopsies
  • Micromotors that exploit chemical reactions to propel themselves forward to deliver drugs to specific areas
  • DNA origami robots, that target cancer cells while protecting healthy tissue

Microscopes, bandages and vaccines

Experts are also developing the use and benefits of this nanotechnology in other areas of medicine, including:

  • Microscopes - smartphone microscopes that detect nanoscale signs of norovirus 
  • Vaccines - pain-free patches that use silicon microneedles to deliver convenient and effective vaccines  
  • Bandages - smart bandages that use nanofibers to aid clotting and growth while detecting signs of infection

Challenges ahead

So, what does the future hold for this sci-fi-come-true area of health tech? Well, firstly, much more research is needed. Little is known about the long-term consequences of this technology, and technical development is required to make nanobots widely available and affordable. 

There’s also lots of work to be done around regulations and whether nanobots are classified as drugs or devices. 

And finally, as with all med-tech, security is an essential consideration going forward. With many of these devices transmitting information from the human body to surgeons, health records and even smartphones - protecting this data will be of the most importance. 

But one thing’s for sure - miniature lifesavers are on their way.

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Drew Percival

Senior Business Manager

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