Scientist in a hazmat suit looking through a microscope. The scientist is lit up in multicolored light, like a heat map. The background is blue, with yellow light aberations on the border.

(Scott Belger / For The Times)


Nanotechnology: the future of healthcare

Nanotechnologies and emerging research may offer opportunities to promote health and battle disease like never before.
<a href="" target="_self">Nathan L</a>

Nathan L

June 22, 2023

Every day, scientists are working in labs trying to find new ways to increase our lifespans and fight diseases. But what if they are looking in the wrong direction instead of improving the technology we have now? Certain groups of scientists and engineers within the field of nanotechnology might have the solution.

In 1986, Dr. Eric K. Drexler proposed the idea of “nanotechnology,” the technology related to atom-sized robots. Nanobots are robots that are smaller than a millionth of a meter. They are made of different inorganic and organic components, such as DNA or cells. A good example of this is iron because it tends to be biocompatible with our bodies as well as magnetic.

Drexler dreamt of swarms of nanobots breaking down pollutants into harmless substances, repairing damage in cells, and maybe even reversing the effects of age. He was discouraged by many scientists at the time who said it was impossible, but a new generation of scientists is making what they called impractical into a reality. 

According to Drs. Muskan Aggarwal and Sunil Kumar, DNA robots — nanobots that are created by viruses and bacteria — are currently being tested to find and destroy cancer cells in animals. With the help of nanotechnology, chemotherapy, the most common treatment for cancer, will have reduced side effects as the nanobots will guide the substances from the chemotherapy to target more malignant cells instead of normal healthy cells. 

Scientists from ETH Zurich and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have reported that they have designed nanobots capable of swimming through bodily fluids with ease. By stringing a piece of polymer together with two magnetic, metal nanowires as well as a magnetic field, they were able to direct the nanobot through liquids denser than blood. 

The possibilities for nanotechnology are endless. Some futurists, as quoted in Interesting Engineering, say that in the next ten or so years, nanobots will even be in our blood fighting bacteria to prevent us from getting sick. Theoretically, nanobots could one day be used to monitor our bodies, checking for infections from different diseases and constantly sending information to a medical team. They have the potential to diagnose and treat illnesses with a small impact on normal tissue, minimizing negative effects, and redesigning healing and therapy at a cellular level.

Nanotech can propel bioengineering and thus health care to a whole new level of effectiveness, reducing illness, increasing the quality of life, and possibly extending our healthy lives further than we could have ever imagined. 

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