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NANOBOTS: REPLACING TRADITIONAL CLINICAL PRACTICE WITH TECHNOLOGY
Arin Natania. S
Doctor of Pharmacy, Sri Ramakrishna Institute of Paramedical Sciences, Coimbatore
Bachelor of Engineering (Mech Dept.), CSI College of Engineering, Ketti, Nilgiris
ABSTRACT : The health care industry of today is focusing on developing minimally invasive techniques for diagnosis, as well as treatment of ailments. The most promising development in this field involves marriage of the latest nanomaterial science and robotics technology with biological knowledge : Nanorobotics. This paper will deal with the latest development in this field as well as the promising future it offers , mainly focusing on health care , though this is a nanoscopic fraction of the scope of this technology.
KEYWORDS: Nanorobotics, Nanomaterial, Robotics Technology, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MEMS.
The health care industry has seen many revolutions, from the invention of the first vaccine to much modern equipment like MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). In the next decade, however, biologists and engineers hope to trigger the most significant revolution in the history of medicine. Having nanoscopic bots crawl (or swim) inside your body will no longer be science fiction. We are on the cusp of the revolution which will lead to our evolution: Evolution into what the author would like to term as REOs (Robotically Enhanced Organisms).Though a REO would not technically be a cyborg (cybernetic organism) , we could think of nanobots as 'internal enhancement'. In comparison cyborgs possess external enhancements such as robotic prosthesis. We could even use nanobots inside our body to relay vitals to a wireless monitoring system. scientists and researchers are trying to build nano-scale robotic models from nanoscopic components. They are using molecular self-assembly to join the parts like a miniature jigsaw puzzle.
ADVANTAGES OF NANOROBOTICS OVER CONVENTIONAL MEDICAL TECHNIQUES
Conventional techniques of investigation and diagnosis used for over the last few centuries are thus, soon going to fall behind as the technological age advances. Also a lot of these procedures will soon become robotically controlled , as quite a few already have. Robot assisted surgery is already in successful use, as we can see from the Da Vinci surgical robot.
Scientists and researchers however are working on a more robust, reliable and bio-compatible approach. Instead of curing from the outside, they plan to defend the body from the inside. That is where medical nanorobotics comes in. The major advantages this technology provides are :
1. Minimal or no tissue trauma.
2. Considerably less recovery time.
3. Less post-treatment care required.
4. Continuous monitoring and diagnosis from the inside.
5. Rapid response to a sudden change. Also, treatment can be started before the medical condition escalates.
Some added features of nanobots would also enable us to do the following:
1. Store and process previous data, identify patterns and hence, help to predict onset of an ailment. 2. Guide nanobots externally or as per programmed, targeting specific locations.
3. Deliver payloads such as drugs, or healthy cells to the specific site.
4. Disassemble and get excreted after completion of task, if required.
An added advantage is that these nanobots will navigate through natural biological pathways, hence we could liken them to customized (and often more durable) body cells, manufactured externally.
And as historically procedures have developed to overcome the drawbacks of their predecessors, nanorobotics will aim to overcome the following drawbacks of today's medical technology:
1. Incisions harm tissue layers which take time to heal.
2. Painful. Anesthesia can be used to limit the pain to a great extent, yet it is only for a short time.
3. Delicate surgeries such as eye surgery still do not have 100% success rate.
4. In any of the invasive techniques , the patient's life is totally in the hands of the operator/ surgeon/ physician. It is risky, as one mistake could spell disaster.
SCALING DOWN : NANOFYING THE MEMS
MEMS technology has revolutionized a lot of fields. We can now get more raw power in much smaller dimensions. Just as an example SMART sensors , made using this technology , now contain the sensor, signal conditioning circuit , signal processing and sometimes even the wireless transmitter, all in a single module, often very small! They can fit in the palm of your hand! Currently, sensors based on micro cantilevers are being developed. They may soon be scaled down further, allowing for their use in the first prototype nanobots. These sensors, in general, use deflection of a cantilever beam to detect a specific analyte. They are usually coated with a chemical with reacts with the analyte to be detected. On reaction, the reacted substance is deposited on top of the cantilever, causing it to bend. Stress caused in the cantilever is proportional to the amount of deposited substance and consequently, to the concentration of the analyte in the medium.
BUILDING FROM THE BOTTOM: THE MOLECULAR APPROACH
Atomic force microscopes can be used for nanoscale manipulation. In 2005, a nanoswimmer was developed which uses external magnetic field to beat a filament attached to a red blood cell . Also, a nanocar using buckyballs (fullerenes) as wheels has been developed . These developments are a few among many in recent years, and could lead to the first nanobots in the near future. The development of nanofabrication techniques such as electron beam lithography and scanning probe lithography have been a huge leap forward, allowing for fabrication of features as small as 3nm in size . We also have a lot of aid from nature in making artificial bio-bots, with respect to availability of biological resources. A lot of the materials needed to build a bot are naturally available, such as proteins that capture solar energy like rhodopsin and bacteriorhodopsin. Now that we have an energy source, we need an actuator. ATP synthesized by the above proteins can be used by certain molecules such as F1-ATPase to rotate nanoscopic shafts. A lot of research is going on to develop more and more efficient motors, which can be actuated by a variety of signals, such as certain chemicals.
1. A significant challenge posed today by nanorobot designers is related to our understanding of physics on the nano scale. As we scale down to the nano-level, that is, our machines (nanobots in our case) become smaller, the forces they are subjected to change completely. Fluid effects such as viscosity and surface effects such as electrostatics dominate over conventional forces due to mass.
2. Also among the main technological challenges today, for development of useful nanorobots, is the generation and storage of power, as mentioned previously. Another challenge, would be developing engineering materials which are usable for the purpose of manufacture of nanobots using NEMS or NEMS-like technology, and be bio-compatible at the same time.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE NEAR FUTURE: PREDICTED USES OF NANOROBOTICS
· Central Nervous System(CNS): Nanobots could be used to treat the cancers in the CNS too. At times, they themselves could act as implants, replacing damaged neurons in some patients . Nanobots will also be able to perform neural surgeries as well as surgeries of the brain, with a high success rate. It would also prevent the necessity of today : drilling a hole in the skull to gain access to the brain.
· Cancer treatment: This is probably the main reason for the development of nanorobotics. Drug delivery for cancer today is difficult to control. Chemotherapy harms healthy tissue in addition to cancerous tissue. We cannot prevent adverse effects of chemotherapy on other parts of our body. Nanorobotics will change it all. Nanobots could be used to deliver drugs specifically to the tumour only, thus preventing the peripheral impact of the drug.
· Body surveillance: Continuous monitoring of vitals and wireless transmission could be possible using nanobots, leading to a quantum leap in diagnostics. This would also help in rapid response in case of sudden change in vitals, or could warn against a possibility of a risk, such as high blood glucose in case of diabetics.
· "Swarm intelligence" , in which they share information available to each one of them, pool it together , and take collective decisions. Such behaviour is seen in ant colonies too; they communicate with the help of chemicals and behave like one large organism, often referred to as a "super organism".
· Surgery: Nanobots could be injected elsewhere in the body and guided to the eye to deliver drugs, if necessary. Similarly, other difficult surgeries will also benefit from advances in nanorobotics, reducing minimal traumas.
· Miscellaneous: Nanobots as endoscopy, mouthwash, cochlear implant and Stem cell delivery systems
Use of nanorobotics in the field of medicine has a wider scope than any other sub-field that has emerged to date. It can be used pretty much anywhere in conjunction with human physiology. It provides numerous advantages over conventional medicine such as lower cost, quicker rehabilitation, low or almost no invasion.
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