The smallest surgeons in the history of the world are working on a breakthrough in medicine. Known as “nanorobots,” or “nanobots,” these microscopic particles are being used to clear clogged arteries in mice. If they prove successful, the potential human benefits could be endless.

What Are Nanorobots?

Nanorobots are magnetically charged molecules that are being used to deliver medications that loosen artery-clogging materials, and are then dispatched to drill out those blockages, so they can be eliminated from the body. Scientists from around the world are working on this technology, which uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines to control the robots. MRI machines steer the molecules as they do their job.

According to an article that appeared on the website of Fortune magazine on January 12, 2016, once scientists refine the nanobots’ drilling techniques in mice, they will then start working on larger animals, such as pigs and rabbits. If those trials are successful, human trials could begin as early as 2019.1

Johnson & Johnson and Verily, a division of the parent company of Google (Alphabet) have been working on surgical robots for more than two years. But all parties involved, according to Fortune, are being extremely tight-lipped on their progress.

Limitless Possibilities

Scientist A.S. Bhat wrote an in-depth article on nanobots in 2014 that appeared in the International Journal of Engineering and Management Services.2 He detailed the challenges facing the technology, as well as its potential.

Bhat has another term for nanobots – he also refers to them as Robotically Enhanced Organisms. But regardless of what you call them, it’s fascinating to think about what the future may hold.

For example, scientists, according to Bhat, are continually searching for ways to detect diseases and other health problems without the need for exploratory surgery. While MRIs and x-rays have been immeasurably useful, nanorobots could one day gather data from the inside of the body, rather than taking a picture from the outside. This could lead to much more reliable, accurate data, and much more effective treatments.

Nanorobots | LCR Health

How Nanorobots Could Vastly Improve Surgical Outcomes

Minimally invasive surgical techniques have proven to be extremely effective in reducing hospital stays, as well as recovery times. If nanobots can be harnessed to perform internal surgical procedures, even these advanced techniques may one day be looked upon as relatively primitive.

No matter how small an incision may be, it will still result in tissue damage that can take weeks to heal. Incisions are also painful – when anesthesia wears off, a patient can be in discomfort for several days afterward. When procedures are more invasive, such as in many forms of heart surgery, a patient can die if a surgeon makes even a small mistake.

Robot-assisted surgery is already being used across the world, reducing the chances that potentially fatal errors will occur. But as long as cutting continues to take place from the outside, the risks of complications will continue to exist. Since nanobots will be designed to cut from the inside, they may provide many advantages over conventional surgery.

These include either very minimal trauma to tissue, or no damage at all, a great deal less time taken to recover, a reduced amount of post-surgical care, and many others. In addition, according to Baht, nanobots could be used to store data that could be used to help predict an illness before it happens, and deliver beneficial drugs or health cells to a problem area. They could even be made to deactivate themselves once their task is done, so they can be painlessly excreted from the body.

Other Potential Medical Uses

Nanobots could one day be used to replace damaged neurons in the brain, or even perform certain types of brain surgery – eliminating the need to drill holes in the skull in order to repair damaged tissue. They could be implanted into certain areas of the brain, delivering impulses to help drive prosthetic devices and help people who have lost limbs.

One of the most exciting possibilities is using nanobots to make sure medications used to fight cancer get to the exact place they’re needed in the body, in order to target a cancerous tumor. This could eventually replace the need for conventional chemotherapy, which damages healthy tissues in addition to cancerous ones.

Nanobots could also one day serve as a type of internal surveillance, wirelessly transmitting vital information from inside the body to help doctors better diagnose problems well before they develop. Multi-functional nanobots could be deployed inside the arteries, transforming themselves into stents that can be used to clear a blockage.

Nanorobots | LCR Health

Challenges

Obviously, you’re not going to have heart surgery or any other type of medical procedure performed by nanobots anytime soon. One of the most important roadblocks to this technology, according to Baht, is the fact that scientists are still trying to grasp the physics of nanotechnology. The smaller that these tiny machines get, the more complex the forces placed upon those objects become.

Nanobots could easily be damaged by colliding with other molecules in the blood stream to the point they couldn’t function. If a nanobots suffered damage, it might need to be “re-taught” how to do its job, much like a person with a paralyzed leg has to learn how to walk all over again. It would seem unlikely, Baht writes, that nanobots could be embedded with artificial intelligence so that they could avoid potential pitfalls within the body.

The field of nanotechnology offers incredible potential when it comes to protecting our overall health. Nanobots offer several advantages over conventional medicine, and could open the door to a true revolution. Imagine a day where we are free from horrible diseases and reach a life expectancy that was never before thought possible. Nanobots could turn such dreams into reality.

Sources:

1.”This Tiny Robot Team Could Help Stop The Number One Killer In America”. Fortune.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 23 June 2017.

2. Bhat, A.S. “NANOBOTS: THE FUTURE OF MEDICINE”. N.p., 2014. Web. 23 June 2017.