Healing From The Inside Out - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

"MedTeam": 5/20/03

Healing From The Inside Out

Many of today’s diseases are the result of damage to cells. At this molecular level, even the finest scalpel is like a huge instrument designed more to rip and tear than to heal and cure. Scientists may soon have a better tool. Some experts say it will do more for the world than the industrial revolution.

These images are not from a comic book -- Ralph Merkle, Ph.D., says they’re the future of medicine.

“We can envision a day when you could inject billions of these devices that would float around in your body. They’d be smaller than a cell, and floating around in the body, they could do useful things,” Merkle, the vice president of technology assessment at Foresight Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., tells Ivanhoe. “We’ll be able to heal and cure conditions that today would be considered completely hopeless.”

Man or Machine? (Part 2 of 3): Healing the Body from the Inside outNanorobots, as they’re called, will detect and destroy cancer at the molecular level. Artificial red blood cells called respirocytes will look like red blood cells but act like mini scuba tanks -- holding up to 100-times more oxygen.

“If you had a heart attack, you would say, ‘Oh, my heart has stopped, I better call my doctor,’ and you’d call your doctor and say, ‘Doc, my heart has stopped, what should I do?’” says Merkle.

Man or Machine? (Part 2 of 3): Healing the Body from the Inside outThese biocapsules being studied by biomedical engineer Tejal Desai, Ph.D., of Boston University, could reverse other medical conditions. They’re implantable devices with rows of pores seven nanometers to 10 nanometers in size -- large enough to release cell-secreted hormones but small enough that antibodies can’t get in.

“Hopefully, using this type of camouflage, they can be protected and then secrete whatever therapeutic hormone they’d like to secrete,” says Desai, like neurotransmitters for Parkinson's or insulin for diabetes.

She says, “Once you have an implant that contains cells, theoretically, it can last indefinitely and you’re functioning like an artificial pancreas.”

Man or Machine? (Part 2 of 3): Healing the Body from the Inside outAt MIT in Cambridge, Mass., computers have been miniaturized to create this nanorobot. It’s 12 stacked circuit boards, a communicator, an onboard computer, and a power system.

“The robot receives specific instructions from the main computer, and then they move to their final destination and position themselves on top of the single molecule or atom and they start doing their work,” says nanorobotics researcher Sylvain Martel.

MIT's Patrick Anquitile expects it to simplify the development of new medications. He says, “Instead of having, basically, samples move around, you could have this little nanowalker maybe taking some fluid from one sample putting it into another sample.”

Man or Machine? (Part 2 of 3): Healing the Body from the Inside outExperts predict when they get small enough to enter the body, nanorobots will alter genes, replace damaged chromosomes within cells, and even digest bacteria and viruses in the blood.

Author, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil, of Kurzweil Tech, Inc., in Wellesley Hills, Maine, can envision a world most of us cannot imagine. “If you want to be in virtual reality, then nanobots shut down the signals coming from your real senses, replace them with the signals your brain would be receiving if you were in the virtual environment, and then your brain feels like you’re in the virtual environment," he says -- virtual reality becoming reality.

If you’ve been wondering how big a nanometer is, consider this … a hair is 50 to 100 microns, and a micron is three orders of magnitude larger than a nanometer.

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