Smaller is Better: How Nanotechnology Will Change the Future of Medicine

By: Jared N. Matlis, Research Assistant

Often portrayed in media as a panacea, nanotechnology is theoretically one of the most versatile innovations ever conceived. But it can’t really be that effective, can it? According to Future Impact of Nanotechnology on Medicine and Dentistry  published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Within 10–20 years it should become possible to construct machines on the micrometer scale made up of parts on the nanometer scale.” With the continuing advancements in this field, it is conceivable that the landscape of medicine will change entirely.

Currently we are able only to scratch the surface of what is possible with further research and innovation. Nanomedicine (the use of nanoparticles and nanomachines for medicinal purpose) has focused on the use of “carefully structured nanoparticles such as dendrimers, carbon fullerenes (buckyballs), and nanoshells to target specific tissues and organs”. These have been used in specialized antiviral, antitumor, and anticancer treatments. We are already seeing how this could replace current medicinal practices in the future.

With this in mind, the authors outline the versatility of future nanotechnological devices. According to their predictions, there could be an entire nanodevice network acting independently within a patient. From nanomachines designed to perform specific tasks and patrol the body, to nanogenerators which convert the body’s mechanical energy into electricity and nanocomputers which guide and control the network.

Hence, a doctor would not only be able to monitor their patient constantly, but also prevent complications without going under the knife.

Even more, they theorized the creation of “Nanorobotic microvores…Artificial phagocytes called microbivores could patrol the bloodstream, seeking out and digesting unwanted pathogens including bacteria, viruses, or fungi.” They speculated that these microbivores could digest such hazards, converting them into essential materials such as amino acids or sugars, which would not damage the body. This could act as a reinforcement or replacement for someone whose immune system is weakened, naturally or as a part of treatment.

Nanotechnology could be utilized in surgeries as well. Surgical nanorobotics could be designed to enter the body during surgery and, either via programming or guidance by a surgeon, search for and correct any medical abnormalities or perform microsurgery. As a result, more patients could avoid major surgery and experience reduced recovery time.

Thus, regardless of what the future may hold, it may prove that sometimes, smaller is better.

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