Sunday, 27 December 2009

If you've just read my post above, then this will only confirm that Nanomedicine is real and heading our way.

For decades, scientists and fiction writers alike have been fascinated by the possibility of tiny machines that can enter a patient, travel to otherwise inaccessible regions, and then diagnose or repair problems with far less pain and with far greater precision than existing medical procedures.

In his famous speech from 1959, 'There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom', Richard Feynman, an American physicist, called this concept “swallow the surgeon”. More recently proponents of nanotechnology have imagined swarms of 'nanobots;' tiny machines just billionths of a meter, or nanometeres, across, that might fix mutations in a person’s DNA or kill off cancer cells before they have a chance to develop into a tumour.

People in the field acknowledge that there are many obstacles to overcome. A big problem, for example, is how to provide power to tiny medical robots. Batteries can provide enough energy for passive capsules like the Pillcam, but robots with active locomotion pose more of a challenge, and micro-robots are likely to need more energy than batteries can store at such small scales. Instead of adding a power source to the device, which increases its weight and bulk, one approach is to apply external magnetic fields to a small robotic device that contains magnetic material, allowing it to be steered simply by controlling the magnetic fields around it.

At the NanoRobotics Laboratory at Ecole Polytechnique de Montréal in Canada scientists are using magnetic fields, generated by a magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI) machines to ferry small beads through the stream with the goal of delivering therapeutics close to tumours.

This has several advantages. For one thing most hospitals already have an MRI machine, so there is no need to construct or buy additional equipment. Furthermore, as well as propelling a magnetic device through the body, an MRI machine can also locate it.

Last year the team achieved a milestone when it manoeuvred a 1.5-millimetre bead through a 5-millimetre artery in a living pig. Since then the researchers have reduced the bead’s size to about 250 micrometres.

Want to find out more? Then click here and visit the conference website.

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