Nanorobotics sometimes called as Molecular Robotics is the science and technology of designing and manufacturing of nanoscale machines or robots capable of controlling and manipulation of objects that have dimensions in the range of nanoscale. Nanotechnology is the study of control of matter within the dimensional range approximately between 1 and 100 nanometres on an atomic or molecular scale, which is much smaller than anything imaginable. This article mainly deals with the facts about nanotechnology, its approach, diagnostic & therapeutic applications in medicine.
Nanorobots are sometimes considered as nanobots or micro-robots whose size ranges from 0.1 - 10 micrometres which means it can move with the precision of nanoscale. "Nanorobotics would constitute any active structure (nano-scale) capable of actuation, sensing, information processing, intelligence and swarm behaviour at nano-scale" (Bar-Cohen, 2006).
More specifically, it is the science and technology of designing and manufacturing of nanoscale machines or robots that are capable of controlling manipulation of nanoscale dimension range of objects. The technology used here is nanotechnology, which has great potential in providing various applications in medicine. It could propose solutions for many medical problems using nanomedicine. It might sound as fiction to some people, but this technology is now already present and is influencing our lives in many facets such as security, medicine etc. The impact of nanorobotics is growing day by day, and it is on its way to reach the first trillion dollar market!
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(Credit: Julian Baum/Science Photo Library)
(Figure 1: Nano-scale cutters and cleaners used for removing blockage from blood vessels)
Basic facts about Nanotechnology:
Nanotechnology shortened to "Nanotech", is an advanced technology of creating nanoparticles or microscopic particles and of manufacturing machines which deal with structures, devices and systems. In science, a Greek word 'nano' means 1-billionth of something, similar to saying nanometre (nm) is 1-billionth of a meter. It is a field involving fabrication and use of devices where everything is measured in nanometres. Nanotechnology involves imaging, measuring, modelling, and manipulating matter at this length of scale. (Amiji, 2007). It is the study involving control of matter with dimensions between 1 and 100 nanometres approximately on an atomic or molecular scale which is much smaller than anything imaginable.
(Figure 2: Atoms and molecules interaction in Nanotechnology)
This article mainly concentrates on Nanotechnology, medical applications of nanotechnology (nanomedicine). The potential applications of nanotechnology in medicine.
It is a science of an understanding which involves moving of molecules and atoms to create new things which are its building blocks on an ultra-small scale. The latest, newest and the most powerful microscopes can be used in order to see objects of nanoscale size.
(Figure 3: Objects and Organisms size in nanoscale)
State-of-the art technology:
Nanotechnology has the ability to combine multiple functions into one, which is the greatest of all advantages over conventional therapies. Nanotechnology is on its way to improve diagnosis and provide new therapeutic procedures with the main vision to improve health, leading to nanorobotic applications in the near future - by the expected use of many novel nanoparticles and nanodevices in an effective and safe manner. It is anticipated that nanotechnology can have an enormous positive impact on human health.
Numbers of different nanotechnology based products are reaching the market in the field of medicine, which are expected to improve human health, in the next coming years. There is a huge possibility that new innovative and advanced products can be created with enormous potential in a wide range of applications.
Major applications in medicine involves detection of diseases at early stages, imaging, diagnosis of diseases (diagnostics), therapeutics and monitoring for potentially harmful pathogens with better ethics. The availability of new drug-delivery systems are of great scientific interest and give hope for cancer treatment and minimum invasive treatments for heart disease, diabetes and other diseases. Nanotechnology mainly involves Nanosensing, Nanoimaging, Nanomanupulation and Computational tools.
The layout of the computer chip design that is based on surface science, and the polymers manufacturing based on the structure of the molecules - are the important examples of nanotechnology already in use.
4.1 Approaches of Nanotechnology:
Nanotechnology is the combination of sciences which makes use of molecular chemistry and bio-chemistry in the design of nano-structures and a technology for building electronic circuits and devices that works at the atomic or molecular level. The two fabrication techniques used in nanotechnology for the manufacturing of nanomaterials are:
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In the "bottom-up" approach, single atoms and molecules are allowed to assemble themselves into larger nanostructures with atomic precision. Man-made materials created using this technology are pretty simple compared to nature's complex structures.
In the "top-down" approach, nanostructures are generated from larger entities without any control of atomic-level .This technique doesn't suit for building nanomachines where precise positioning of atoms and molecules is required. This approach is suitable for generating structures interconnected or integrated as in electronic circuitry.
These techniques are used for the production of various useful chemicals such as commercial polymers and pharmaceuticals.
(Figure 4: Interaction of atoms and molecules in Nanotechnology)
"It is a highly multidisciplinary field that cuts across many disciplines, drawing from fields such as applied physics, materials science, colloidal science, device physics, supra-molecular chemistry, and even mechanical and electrical engineering".
Nanotechnology is used in various industries for multiple uses. Keeping that in mind, we can hope that interesting innovations will come up in future in the fields of information technology, biotechnology, medical technology etc.
(Figure 5: High expectation of development in the field of medicine using nanotechnology)
4.2 Possible Risks for Human Health and Ethical Considerations:
It has been found from studies that biodegradable substances which are normally separated into constituent parts and their waste products are separated & expelled from the blood and tissues - as waste or harmful matter by the kidneys and intestines.
And however, non-biodegradable nanoparticles seem to accumulate in certain organs, especially in the liver. Further investigation is needed as there is no clarification about the potential harm it leads to or for what dosage.
4.3 ELSA Compliance:
Nanomedicine touches familiar Ethical, Legal and Social Aspects (ELSA) known from biomedical ethics such as gap between diagnostics and therapy sensitivity of genetic information.
4.4 Nanotechnogy in Medicine:
There are high expectations of development in the field of medicine using nanotechnology which includes improved imaging for early diagnosis, nanoparticles usage in order to treat diseases and implants with superior compatibility and durability.
Injecting patients for the eradication of various diseases by making some repairs with machines, restoring the systems in the environment on a molecular level etc. are all the parts of Nanotechnology promise.
"Nanomedical devices can be applied for analytical, imaging, detection, diagnostic and therapeutic purposes and procedures, such as targeting cancer, drug delivery, improving cell-material interactions, scaffolds for tissue engineering, and gene delivery systems, and provide innovative opportunities in the fight against incurable diseases". (Kawasaki, 2005)
Nanotechnology application in medicine include Gene therapy, Nanorobots, Novel molecular tags, Diagnostic tags, Microsurgery devices, Gene and protein chips, Non-invasive imaging, Drug delivery systems, Diagnostic biosensors, Single molecule detection etc.
(Figure 6. Nanobots killing a virus) (Kresimir Martinac, 2006)
4.5 Nanomaterials and Nanoparticles in Medicine:
Nanoparticles and nanomaterials have an impact on various relevant areas which act as drug-delivery and drug-targeting systems. Future nanomaterials would have high performance and unique properties.
Due to their smallness, they are not recognized by the human body, and are capable to migrate through cell membranes beneath a critical size and are able to pass through the blood - brain barrier.
There are many kinds of nanoparticles categorised as nanocrystals, dendrimers etc. which are suitable for application in drug-delivery and gene-delivery, probing DNA structures etc. The functionality and delivery of drugs and can be enhanced by nano-particles.
Small size of nanoparticles provides versatility, multi-parametric readouts, space reduction, cost reduction, time reduction etc.
Nanotechnology Medical Applications:
Nanomaterials and many improved products using nanotechnology mainly depend on how the physical properties are changed when the sizes of the nanomaterials are shrunk. It takes advantage of surface area to volume ratio.
5.1 Drug Delivery:
Applications in medicine using nanotechnology makes use of nanoparticles for delivering drugs, targeting heat or light to specific types of cells such as cancer cells. Nanoparticles can be engineered in such a way that they get attracted to cells which are diseased and allow treatment of damaged cells directly. This technique helps in early detection of diseases and gives scope to reduce damage to healthy cells.
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Nanoparticles that can deliver chemotherapy drugs directly to the cells affected by cancer are under development. Tests related to targeted delivery of chemotherapy drugs are still pending.
Nanotechnology has been an amazing technology in medical field using which the drugs can be delivered to specific cells using nanoparticles.
The drug delivery approach is highly selective which could reduce costs and also the suffering of humans. Examples of nanoparticles for drug delivery are block co-polymers and dendrimers.
5.2 Therapy Techniques:
Stimulation of nanofibers is possible in damaged joints by the production of cartilage.
Nanoparticles can fight against respiratory viruses by stimulating an immense response, while inhaling.
Nanoshells can be used to destroy cells affected by cancer by concentrating heat from infrared light with less damage to healthy cells.
Nanoparticles generate electrons when they are activated by x-rays resulting in the destruction of cells affected by cancer and it causes very less damage to the healthy tissue, which is more preferable compared to radiation therapy, In radiation therapy, more healthy cells are damaged along with the damaged ones.
Bleeding can be reduced very quickly in patients suffering with trauma by using Aluminosilicate nanoparticles.
5.3 Diagnostic and Imaging Techniques:
Quantum Dots are used for performing diagnostic tests in samples in order to locate cancer tumors in patients. Iron-oxide nanoparticles can also be used to improve images of cancer tumours.
5.4 Anti-Microbial Techniques:
The use of nanocrystalline silver acts as an antimicrobial agent for the treatment of wounds.
5.5 Nanomedicine Applications in Cell Repair:
Nanorobotos can be used to repair specific diseased cells which are similar to antibodies involved in the healing process.
5.6 Tissue Engineering:
Nanotechnology can help to reproduce tissue or to repair damaged tissue. Conventional treatments like organic transplants or artificial transplants can be replaced by Tissue Engineering that makes use of artificially stimulated cells.
Thus, Nanomedicine is an offshoot of Nanotechnology, referring to highly specific medical intervention at the molecular scale for therapeutic purposes (involving curing diseases or repairing damaged tissues), and for the development of diagnostics for rapid monitoring, targeted cancer therapies, localised drug delivery, improved cell material interactions, scaffolds for tissue engineering, and gene delivery systems.
Nanotechnology also plays a key role in the interventional therapeutic approach of Atherosclerosis and Coronary Artery disease (CAD),
Nanotechnology against Cancer:
Nanorobots could also be useful in treating vascular disease, physical trauma, and even biological aging.
Nanotechnology has an impact in medicine which mainly involves tracking therapy, diagnosing and treating. 'The fact that nanoparticles with different properties magnetic, optical etc. due to their size, can be easily delivered rather than larger particles - is the basic concept involved in nanotechnology applications in the field of medicine. Treatment of cancer is possible in an effective manner by using nanorobots.
Medical Nanorobots identify and isolate cancer cells when they are introduced into the blood stream. The cells which are affected by cancer can be searched by nanorobots using certain molecular markers. After identifying the cancerous cells, they first isolate such cells and later destroy them.
Medical nanorobotics is very essential as chemotherapy and radiation therapy used for destroying the cancerous cells end up destroying more healthy cells than the cells affected by cancer.
The prominent areas in which medicine is being developed in cancer using nanotechnology involve:
Early detection of tumour, and
- Early Detection of Tumour: Collection platforms can be developed for the analysis of cancer-associated markers and to design contrast agents which improve the resolution of tumour area compared to normal tissues when diagnosing. The survival rates will increase by a huge amount.
- Cancer Treatment: Cancer can be treated by the creation of nanodevices which can release chemotherapeutic agents.
Early Detection of Tumour is possible with the assumption that situ tumour will be easily eradicated than one that has spread to the large extent, even though the best cure for cancer is Tumour diagnostics and prevention.
The molecules related to cancer can be detected by the nanodevices and nanowires which contribute to the early diagnosis of the tumour. Nanoparticle contrast agents like nuclear magnetic resonance imaging are being developed for the purpose of tumour detection. "Tumour treatment can be succeeded with nanoscale devices (such as dendrimers, silica-coated micelles, ceramic nanoparticles, liposomes). These devices can serve as targeted drug-delivery vehicles capable of carrying chemotherapeutic agents or therapeutic genes into malignant cells" (Kawasaki, 2005).
It was approved by the Food and Drug Administration that nanoparticle based drug like Abraxane is useful for the treatment of breast cancer. It is mainly because it consists of paclitaxel conjunctive to protein albumin particles. The effectiveness of drug delivery can be increased and the problem of toxicity can also be overcome by the selective delivery and targeting of nanoparticles against tumours.
Nanorobotics for Diabetes Control:
Diabetes is a disease which affects many regardless of age and gender which may be basically due to genes and ultimately come up when certain conditions are met.
Medical nanorobotics helps in monitoring level of sugar in the body using a constant glucose monitoring technique which will avoid taking small samples number of times a day. The information can be easily generated which helps in providing real time health care and improving patient's medication.
This is a practical way which develops awareness among public about the level of sugar which helps them to take food with good intake of proteins and calories.
(Figure 7: Pervasive monitoring for a patient with diabetes.)
Detection of glucose levels is achieved by embedded nano-biosensors when passed into the bloodstream and later, the required information is gathered.
Nanorobots continually check for changes in the glucose levels throughout the body not just at one site but many different directions simultaneously which provides a physician a whole body map of serum glucose concentrations. It will have utility to detect the rates of glucose uptake which helps in determining which tissues may have damaged or suffered and up to what extent.
Data from the whole body is collected even when the patient performs different tasks like resting, exercise which could address the severity of the disease.
"The nanorobot design includes integrated nanoelectronics. As a valuable tool for diabetes control, nanorobots are used for automatically monitoring glucose levels".
Therefore, "onboard sensors" can also measure and report diagnostically relevant observations such as patient blood pressure, early signs of tissue gangrene, or changes in local metabolism related to diabetes.
Further Development of Nanorobotics:
The main motivation for nanotechnology and an enormous effort on it will have an impact on the way how nanodevices and nanoelectronics are utilised in order to build nanorobots. The same technologies which are used to assemble nanorobots for their manufacturing can be applied in various fields which could lead to more innovative developments to achieve as many new methodologies as possible. Nanorobots are expected to provide fabulous technologies and devices with the ongoing research and development for enhanced industrial automation.
Embedded sensor devices used in different applications of nanorobotics for diagnosis and drug delivery is the topic of interest. Diagnosis could lead to major improvements for medical treatments with high precision. As a result of such developments, more effective and safe operations are expected for manufacturing processes, as well as better electronics, featuring higher performance and lower energy requirements.
There is lot of research going on for huge progress to be achieved to design novel nano-devices which will be capable of cancer detection more effectively by location pointing within the human body and by delivering chemotherapeutic drugs against malignant cells.
Cancer is leading to death of many people and the worrisome fact is that cancer related deaths have increased compared to deaths caused by the heart diseases in the recent past. This shows that there is a need for new therapies which are more effective for a new generation. Moral and ethical concerns need to be considered in parallel with the new developments. Current problems for nanomedicine involve understanding the issues related to toxicity and environmental impact of nanoscale materials.
Conflict of Interest:
Controversy has risen that emerging nanotechnologies have potential risks. The report which out-lighted the survey conducted on nanotechnologies have highlighted that very less number of people have knowledge about what actually nanotechnology is and how these products impact human life.
There is an impact on health when inhaled nanoparticles leave the lungs through nonconventional routes - which might affect other parts of the body. It also can affect kidneys, brain and also the cardiovascular system. The majority of public agrees with the fact that there must be an evaluation of hazards imposed and about the risks which are associated with nanotechnology & how it has an impact on health. The awareness of information to the public is must in order to avoid problems that can be created by nanotechnology. Hence, special guidance is strongly recommended for the safety of human health by evaluating nanotechnology products in medicine.
This paper mainly focused on how Nanotechnology is on the way to improve diagnosis and provide new therapeutic procedures with the main vision to improve health, leading to nanorobotic applications in the coming future by the expected use of many novel nanoparticles and nanodevices in an effective and safe manner. As a result, it could lead to progress in various procedures with an enormous positive impact for improving human health and enhancing the physical abilities of humans. There is no doubt that nanotechnology is going to play a vital role providing revolutionary solutions in the various fields like computer and cell phone industry, plastic industry, medicine etc. The major achievements in nanomedicine are the early detection of disease. Others include diabetes treatment, treatment for cancer, treatments for heart disease, implants with improved properties etc. Basic research is going on in the fields of Genetics, Proteomics, Systems Biology and Molecular Biology.
Therefore, many thanks to nanotechnology for its advancement in the field of medicine providing innovative solutions for various diseases.