In this article from Backbone Magazine, Douglas Mulhall, author of Our Molecular Future tells us about the future of nanomedicine. He thinks that medical diagnosis will be the first successful steps, involving nanorobots which will raise alerts when they detect pre-cancerous cells. And twenty years from now, researchers envision that nanomedicine will be a trillion dollar industry. Around 2025, you'll pay $1,000 a year for a nanopill that will extend your life by suppressing heart attacks, diabetes and other diseases. Other scientists say that nanotechnology will be used to build synthetic bone and tissue, an opinion shared by Scientific American, which warns that growing replacement organs is still at least another 10 to 20 years in front of us.
Let's start with some of Mulhall's thoughts.
Mulhall points to the process of printing artificial skin on three-dimensional printers. "Printers are now being injected with self-assembling materials that can actually grow human tissue," he said from his Barbados office. "Skin is being sprayed by ink jet printers onto surfaces. Then it grows."
Mulhall imagines a world where people can enjoy increased intelligence, enhanced vision and no wrinkles, as well as a host of anti-ageing solutions. And if growing skin is not really what people imagine as the future of medicine, Mulhall points out that technology is advancing more quickly than most dreamed.
He adds that developments such as very fast computing using optical processing or microscopic computers implanted in the eye are making steady advances.
He also thinks that future nanomedicine will use internal robots. Of course, there are still lots of questions to answer before nanorobots can cruise our bloodstreams, such as who will control them.
But when these issues are settled, Tom Keenan, a professor and researcher at the University of Calgary,said one of the best uses for the technology will be in preventing illness in the first place. For example, tiny robots could sound the alert when they detect pre-cancerous cells.
We’re going to see medical diagnostics of nanotechnology quite quickly. That will soon be followed by some treatment methodology, where we can intervene with the cells as they are becoming carcinogenic.
Keenan also said nanotechnology could be used to build synthetic bone and tissue, and speculated there will also be military applications.
The Scientific American article offers more insights about this "nano body building." Still, growing some parts of our bodies other than bones or tissues is incredibly challenging.
For example, Neil Theise, a stem cell researcher and doctor of pathology at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, said it’s very difficult to unblock areas that drain the liver, particularly in cancer patients.
We’re talking about microscopic areas, places where we can’t get an endoscope to reach. If we figure out a way to create a mechanical device to crawl up there and do diagnostics and bring back information on the biochemical environment, malignant cells, or even open an area of scar -- that is very sexy and exciting.
I think we’ll regard this era as when the groundwork was being laid and the fanciful ideas were generated to create workable targets. In terms of making therapeutic interventions (with nanotechnology), I suspect that’s decades away. But we’re already there in terms of visualizing and manipulating molecules on nano levels.
At least, all these researchers agree on one thing: nanomedicine is going to totally take over healthcare in the 21st century.
For more information about Douglas Mulhall works, you can check his introduction to Our Molecular Future.
And if you want to buy the book, Our Molecular Future: How Nanotechnology, Robotics, Genetics and Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Our World, you can click on this link.
Sources: Zack Medicoff, Backbone, May 7, 2004; Christine Soares, Scientific American, May 10, 2004