Ingestible Nanobots: An Overview

A nanobot is a robot consisting of components that can be measured on a nanometer scale. For reference, a nanometer is one billionth of a meter, meaning that it is about the width of 2 silicon atoms. As a result, it should come as no surprise to learn that nanobots have a wide range of potential applications because of their minuscule size, though fewer than what science fiction would have us believe. Regardless, a fair number of these potential applications take place inside humans, thus explaining the recent interest in ingestible nanobots that can be delivered to their intended destinations by swallowing them in much the same manner as pills and other medicines.

What Are Some of the Potential Uses for Ingestible Nanobots?

One potential application for ingestible nanobots is combating cancer. For example, there has been some progress made on the creation of nanobots that can detect cancer cells and then inject their drugs into those same cancer cells. This is important because current cancer treatments are not so precise, meaning that these nanobots have the potential to make cancer treatments not just much more effective but also much less damaging to the surrounding tissues, thus reducing their side effects on the patient. However, it is interesting to note that there is also progress being made on nanobots that support rather than replace the immune system in combating cancer cells, which can be just as important.

In brief, most cancer cells are detected and destroyed by the human body’s immune system, but some cancer cells develop mutations that enable them to mimic the signals of non-cancerous cells, thus providing them with the metaphorical breathing room needed to grow and grow into cancerous tumors. By creating nanobots that can raise the alarm on such cancer cells, it might be possible to use the immune system to prevent the formation of cancerous tumors, thus making one of the most horrendous medical conditions into something much more manageable.

With that said, there are more potential applications for ingestible nanobots, which are just as interesting. For example, if ingestible nanobots can be used to combat cancer by delivering drugs to their intended destinations, there is no reason that they cannot do the same for other medical conditions through the same mechanism. Furthermore, there is no reason that nanobots cannot be used to facilitate all sorts of processes in the human body, with common examples ranging from the repair of damaged tissues to the removal of harmful substances moving through the bloodstream. In fact, some people even believe that nanobots will be used to help people stay healthy by maintaining an optimal weight, which is not dramatic as some of the potential applications that have already been stated but is nonetheless one of the most sought-after goals of pharmaceutical companies.

It is important to note that the earliest examples of ingestible nanobots will be limited because they will consist of non-replicating makes and models. In part, this is because such nanobots will be much easier to manufacture than their self-replicating counterparts as well as much more robust and reliable because of their simplified nature, thus putting them that much closer to being brought to the open market. However, it should also be noted that non-replicating nanobots possess less risk of coming into conflict with the immune system as well as the rest of the human body’s natural processes, which would not just interfere with their main function but also create unwanted complications that will be both expensive and time-consuming to overcome. As a result, the potential applications that have been stated so far are no more than a part of the full range of ingestible nanobots’ full potential, though they are more than enough to produce a fundamental change in how we live.

What Are Some of the Players In the Market for Ingestible Nanobots?

Here are some examples of the players involved in the market for ingestible nanobots:

* Nanobots need a source of power in much the same manner as their bigger counterparts. This is why the successful efforts of scientists at the University of California, San Diego to create nanobots capable of powering themselves using stomach acid is so exciting. In brief, the nanobots were coated in zinc, which reacted with stomach acid to create hydrogen bubbles to propel them into the stomach lining before delivering payloads. While this won’t be applicable for all of the ingestible nanobots out there, it is nonetheless a fascinating example of the challenges involved as well as the means to overcome them.

* Eric Diller and Metin Sitti at Carnegie Mellon University have come up with micro-robots, which are not as small as nanobots but share some of the same potential. What makes their invention so interesting compared to other micro-robots is that it can be manipulated using magnetic fields rather than an outside controller that has to be tethered to it. Combined with its manipulators, it is possible that said tool could be used to assemble more micro-robots inside the human body, which could be used to help wounds clot as well as other natural processes.

* The University of California’s Davis Cancer Center has come up with research for nanoparticles that can be used to detect and destroy cancer cells inside the human body. In other words, this is a measurable step towards the use of ingestible nanobots for combating cancer cells as describe above, though it is still far from the finish.

Final Thoughts

With that said, interested individuals should remember that while ingestible nanobots possess much potential, there is no guarantee that said potential will ever be fulfilled. In part, this is because what seems plausible based on our current understanding of the relevant fields might not be so plausible once researchers find out more through their studies. However, it should also be noted that there is no guarantee that something that can be done will also be practical, meaning that it could lie beyond the reach of most consumers. As a result, while interested individuals should not hesitate to find out more about ingestible nanobots and the field of nanorobotics on their own if they are interested, they should also not get carried away by their enthusiasm, which could make them more susceptible to the less than scrupulous individuals who are always seeking to make a profit by riding the latest wave in medical advancements without actually having something to back up their claims.

References:

  1. http://gizmodo.com/these-fascinating-new-nanobots-seek-out-and-destroy-can-1627846937
  2. https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25448-mini-robot-doctors-that-could-swim-in-your-bloodstream

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