The idea of using nanorobots to deliver drugs and fight diseases such as cancers is not new (check this story for example). But there are still lots of issues to solve before nanorobots can diagnose our diseases and treat them. Now, an international team of researchers has designed a software and hardware platform of a nanorobot to be used in medical applications. The researchers think their nanorobots could become available around 2015. But read more...
You can see above the "nanorobots' design-sensors, molecular sorting rotors, fins and propellers. The depicted blue cones shows the sensors 'touching' areas." In fact, these nanorobots can move with six-degrees-of-freedom, i.e., arbitrary translation and rotation fins and propellers. They also have specific sensory capabilities to detect the target regions, obstacles and chemicals relevant for their medical application." (Credit: Adriano Cavalcanti and colleagues)
This other image describes how nanorobots deliver drugs -- at least in a virtual environment. "The 3D environment contains nanorobots, obstacles, biomolecules and specific medical targets. The medical targets represent organ-inlets, displaced stochastically as target locations or drug delivery points for medical applications." (Credit: Adriano Cavalcanti and colleagues)
The images above have been created by Adriano Cavalcanti, the CEO and chairman of the Center for Automation in Nanobiotech (CAN), who also is researcher at Monash University in Melbourne. But he was not alone. He was helped by Bijan Shirinzadeh, an associate professor in the Robotics and Mechatronics Research Laboratory at Monash University in Melbourne, Robert Freitas, Jr., of the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing in California, and Tad Hogg who works for Hewlett-Packard Laboratories also in California.
Now, let's look at the Cavalcanti's interview by nanotechweb.org. Here is a question I would have asked. "Q: How can nanorobots be achieved? A: In the same way microelectronics has provided new medical devices in the 80s, now the miniaturization through nanotechnology is enabling the manufacturing of nanobiosensors and actuators to improve cell biology interfaces and biomolecular manipulation. Fully operational nanorobots for biomedical instrumentation should be achieved as a result of nanobioelectronics and proteomics integration."
And how simulation work help? "The methodologies and the implemented 3D simulation described in our study served as a test bed for molecular machine prototyping. The numerical analysis and advanced simulations provided a better understanding on how nanorobots should interact inside the human body. Hence, based on such information, we have proposed the innovative hardware architecture with a nanorobot model for use in common medical applications. The nanorobot takes chemical and thermal gradient changes as interaction choices for in vivo treatments. The use of mobile phones with RF is adopted in this platform as the most effective approach for control upload, helping to interface nanorobots communication and energy supply."
In Virtual 3D nanorobots could lead to real cancer-fighting technology, PhysOrg.com gives more details about the 3D virtual nanorobots. "In a demonstration of the real-time simulation, the nanorobots had the task of searching for proteins in a dynamic virtual environment, and identifying and bringing those proteins to a specific “organ-inlet” for drug delivery. The researchers analyzed how the nanorobots used different strategies to achieve this goal. For instance, the nanorobots could employ different sensory capabilities such as chemical and temperature sensors, as well as random movement. For the nanorobots, one of the most difficult parts was maneuvering close enough to a biomolecule to be able to sense that biomolecule, while accounting for many different forces and moving bodies. Unlike on the macroscale, viscosity dominates movement in arteries, affecting the nanorobots’ traveling as it encounters obstacles and proteins moving passively through the fluid."
PhysOrg.com also asked Cavalcanti when these nanorobots could become available to help us. "'If you consider the velocity that miniaturization is moving, from micro to nanoelectronics, then you can easily understand the feasibility to have medical nanorobots integrated as a nanoelectronic molecular machine before 2015,' he predicted, adding that nanorobots, like all medical technologies, would still need to undergo safety testing, which would push back the date for mass production and commercialization."
This research work has been published in the January 9, 2008 issue of Nanotechnology under the name "Nanorobot architecture for medical target identification" (Volume 19, Number 1, Article 015103). Here is an excerpt from the abstract. "The nanorobots operate in a virtual environment comparing random, thermal and chemical control techniques. The nanorobot architecture model has nanobioelectronics as the basis for manufacturing integrated system devices with embedded nanobiosensors and actuators, which facilitates its application for medical target identification and drug delivery. The nanorobot interaction with the described workspace shows how time actuation is improved based on sensor capabilities. Therefore, our work addresses the control and the architecture design for developing practical molecular machines. Advances in nanotechnology are enabling manufacturing nanosensors and actuators through nanobioelectronics and biologically inspired devices."
[Disclaimer: Adriano Cavalcanti thought I would be interested by these progresses about nanorobots. Of course, I was. Now it remains to be seen if some of my readers also would be interested. Anyway, I have no financial ties with Adriano Cavalcanti and his company. For more information -- and pictures -- about his research, please check his Nanorobotics Control Design site.]
Finally, please drop me a note if you think these future nanorobots can benefit to us or not.
Sources: nanotechweb.org, December 4, 2007; Lisa Zyga, PhysOrg.com, December 5, 2007; and various websites
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