Nanorobots Are the Cure for (Almost) Everything


June 24, 2016

Moore’s law states that technology in all its forms will continue to decrease in size as it advances and become more refined. Hand-held cassette players, for example, have shrunk to become just one aspect of the smartphone, a device generally smaller than a cassette player ever became. With this law in mind, scientists, technologists, and science-fiction writers have long since envisioned nanorobots or nanobots.

Nanobots are exactly as the name implies. They are robots built on a microscopic scale and designed to perform a specific function. For example, nanobots could be injected into a water supply to purify the water to a degree that no existing filter could possible hope to accomplish. Besides residential applications, this could be particularly effective in the event of an oil spill.

However, the most exciting applications for nanobots have to do with medicine and human improvement.


Nanorobotics in Medicine

The potential applications for Nanobots are nearly limitless:

  • Cancer Treatment: Nanorobots could be used to identify cancerous tumors on either a preventative or reactionary basis. Imagine ingesting nanobots that are constantly on surveillance for any cancerous cells. Once the cells are identified, the nanobots would mobilize and destroy the tumor at its earliest stage.


  • Human Improvement: Some of our body’s physical limitations are due to an inability to supply enough oxygen to our muscles and brain. One potential application for nanobots is to carry oxygen throughout the bloodstream in capacities far beyond that of our red blood cells. This influx of oxygen could enable us to sprint for drastically longer distances or hold our breath underwater for minutes at a time.


  • Immune Support: Much like the cancer treatment, nanobots could theoretically be programmed to operate like your body’s white blood cells, the enforcers of your immune system. Flowing throughout the bloodstream, the nanorobots would scan for any foreign particles and destroy them. It could even be the cure for the common cold.


  • Ultrasound and Visualization: A swarm of nanorobots could produce a much more detailed image in an ultrasound of an unborn child, an MRI, or other visualization procedure. Furthermore, in addition to increasing image resolution, the bots could also provide an analysis of the area in question.


  • Tissue Repair: In the event of a wound, ulcer, sore, or other tissue damage, the internal nanobots can set to work repairing the damage. If the subject is bleeding, the nanobots can close the hole like the platelets in our bloodstream, destroy any bacteria that entered the body, and then maintain the repair moving forward. Effectively, these nanobots could expedite the healing process.


Development Challenges in Nanotechnology

With the awesome potential of nanobot applications listed, one may wonder why we have not devoted more attention to their development. The answer is simple. We have. Developing, testing, and releasing a new medical product is just extremely difficult to accomplish.

The pervasive opinion on the field of nanorobotics is that it is “young,” at least for now. But, rudimentary versions of nanorobots have been released over the last twenty years. In an article in The Atlantic, a researcher at the University of California in San Francisco named Shawn Douglas, outlines the process for testing and releasing even a simple version of the nanobot.

Instead of sophisticated robots capable of analysis and proper response, the simplified version would be an automated molecule designed to deliver a drug to the right area of the body. Calling it a robot at all is a liberal interpretation of the modern conception. Robot or not, developing even a relatively simple iteration of nanobot technology is an extremely difficult endeavor.


  • Creating Enough Material: Everything must be tested, and to test, you must have samples. It is quite simple to collect a very small amount of cells and DNA and then test the drug, but once promising results are found, the lab must then assemble much more material for further tests.Douglas explains:


“We need 100,000 times that much material, which would bankrupt the entire lab. So we have to invent a new way to make it, so that takes a couple of years. And then before you know it five years have gone by.”


  • Developing a Testing System: Medical research has long been based on a system of looking for results in the end organ, illness, or tissue sample. There are a lot more moving parts in nanotechnology research. In addition to testing whether the drug is successful, the lab must also determine if the delivery system worked as it should have. Was a negative result because the drug is ineffective or was it the delivery system? Where did the delivery system fail? How? Why? The questions go on.


  • FDA Approval: Then, after years of testing and retesting, the technology can be submitted to the FDA for approval, and the FDA has their own set of stringent requirements. Sometimes, the FDA may require a lab to perform the same testing procedures all over again, says Douglas.


“So you’re testing it again in the lab, then on animals, then on people. From the moment you enter that process it can take eight to ten years to finish” 


The Future of Nanorobots

Yes, nanotechnology is an emerging field of science, and there are many barriers to its completion. That does not, however, mean that the technology as a whole is out of reach or impossible. Since 1995, the FDA has approved 30 nanoparticle drugs, and the potential is so transformative, that the incentive is there to continue the research. Modern medicine has pushed the envelope on what is possible for over a century, and it will continue to do so.

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For Further Reading

My Doctor Is a Robot! The da Vinci Surgical System


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