November 20, 2013      


Nanorobotics: Offering dramatic and beneficial paradigm shift

Frank Boehm has been involved with nanotechnology, and especially nano-medicine, since 1996, and recently completed the generation of a book on the topic of nano-medicine, entitled Nanomedical Device and Systems Design: Challenges, Possibilities, Visions ( CRC Press (Taylor & Francis): November 25, 2013).

Below, Boehm briefly discusses how nanorobotics (nano-medical devices) may have strong potential for enabling dramatic and beneficial paradigm shifts in virtually every aspect of conventional medicine.

Nano-medical robotics

Nano-medicine may be considered to be one of the most significant facets of the still nascent discipline of nanotechnology, which may be defined as the fundamental enabling capacity for the controlled manipulation of matter at the molecular and atomic domains.

This capacity may facilitate the synthesis of novel materials, and the development of devices and other useful products that are endowed with extraordinary properties and enhanced functionality.

In the realm of medicine, there is a rapidly increasing and pervasive trend toward the development of more compact, minimally invasive, smarter, more precise, and efficacious medical technologies.

See related interview with Boehm: Exploring the possibilities of nano-medical devices (Future Medicine).

Cellular and molecular levels where many disease processes originate

Nano-medical diagnostics and therapeutics operate at cellular and molecular levels, precisely where many disease processes find their genesis, and from which they emanate.
Hence, nanomedicine has the potential for diagnosing and treating many conditions preemptively, before they have the opportunity to proliferate.

Since sophisticated nano-medical devices and systems will be designed and engineered to operate within cellular, organellar, molecular and (hypothetically) atomic domains, it is conceivable that they will be imbued with capacities for the highly accurate diagnoses and meticulous and thorough eradication of virtually any disease state, pathogenic or toxic threat.

Further, in light of the likely inevitable advent of advanced molecular manufacturing, [which will involve entirely different classes of interactive nanorobotic species] elegant and economical nano-medical technologies might be readily accessible to those in developing, as well as developed regions.

Outbody human surgeons and dedicated computers

Concomitantly, practically every type of invasive surgical procedure could be rendered obsolete, as all corrective activities may be conducted in vivo by interactive multitudes of nano-medical cell repair devices, under the direct control of outbody human surgeons and dedicated computers.

Innumerable options for human cognitive and physiological augmentation, as well as the potential slowing, prevention or possible (to a degree) reversal of the disease of ageing may become reality.

In conjunction with the option for significantly increased lifespans, those who are driven to explore the stars may undergo specialized nano-medical enhancements to enable robust protective countermeasures against the degradative effects of microgravity and deep space radiation, and to facilitate, if required, prolonged suspended animation.

Present and future conceptualists, designers and engineers will be challenged with the formidable tasks of conceiving of, graphically articulating, fabricating and interfacing complex nanoscale elements and components toward the development of sophisticated nano-medical robotic devices and systems.

One of the longer-term nanomedical devices that I have envisaged is dubbed the Vascular Cartographic Scanning Nanodevice (VCSN).

The VCSN would be manifest as an advanced autonomous ~1 m in diameter nanomedical robotic device for imaging the entire vasculature in vivo, down to the level of the smallest capillary lumen (~3 m diameter), or the lymphatic system, in high-resolution three-dimensional (3D) digitized format.

A prescribed dose of perhaps thousands of identical VCSN units might be introduced into a patient via injection, diffusion through an adhered patch or topical gel, through swallowing as with a pill, oral administration by thin film wafers, or as eye/ear drops.

Due to the massively parallel cooperation and finely orchestrated interactivity of the VCSN units, the entire scanning procedure might be completed within five minutes.

VCSN excerpt: Nanomedical Device and Systems Design: Challenges, Possibilities, Visions

“An externally activated homing signal would direct all nano-devices to a predetermined outbody egress site where they would be collected and stored for subsequent molecular disassembly and recycling.”

A far less complex/rudimentary, albeit still nano-component enabled precursor to the VCSN device, would be manifest as a swallowable, much physically larger (~3 mm in diameter) in vivo nano-medical imaging instrument, called the Gastrointestinal Micro Scanning Device (GMSD).

GMSD excerpt: Nano-medical Device and Systems Design: Challenges, Possibilities, Visions

The GMSD system will consist of three distinct components working in unison to generate a very high-resolution 3D topography of the entire internal surface of the GIT.

The GMSD would accomplish this task by employing:

1. An internalized (via ingestion) scanning device [bright ball (BB)]
2. An external pulse generator/data transfer unit [PGDT]
3. A PM display element [PM = Pixel Matrix]

The setup for the GMSD operational procedure would be relatively simple to implement. Initially, the BB would be administered orally to the patient in the same manner as a pill.

Next, an adhesive and waterproof PGDT thin film patch would be affixed to the skin of patient’s abdomen. The internalized BB would now progress along with the natural peristaltic rhythms of the GIT and be naturally eliminated at the conclusion of the transit duration.

The PGDT would finally be removed and interfaced with a computer to transfer the spatial data that it has acquired during the scanning procedure, for subsequent display and assessment.

Early synopses of these nano-medical concepts may be found on Robert Freitas’ Nano-medicine Art Gallery.

More expansive descriptions of these nano-medical devices and systems can be found in: Nanomedical Device and Systems Design: Challenges, Possibilities, Visions

It seems very likely that the practice of medicine is poised to undergo myriad significant changes in the coming 10 to 30 years.

Of critical importance and responsibility to the robotics community, as relates to the prospective future development of advanced autonomous nano-medical robotic devices and their infrastructures, will be the leading and guiding of their safe development and efficacious functionality, via the implementation of stringent testing and operational protocols, in conjunction with the integration of highly redundant systems to ensure overall optimal integrity.