Tiny robots may help you live longer

A revolution in medical technology is looming over the horizon. The revolutionist in question is microscopically small and is defined today as nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is the engineering of molecular machines the size of a bacterium that could completely change the face of medicine as we know it. A nanometre is one-billionth of a meter, approximately the width of about five carbon atoms placed side by side.

Nanomedicine is defined as the application of nanotechnology to medicine. In other words, nano-robots, small enough to fit through even the smallest capillaries, with the ability to cure disease and perform surgery at a molecular level!

There are two ways in which nanotechnology can extend the human lifespan; one, by eradicating diseases such as cancer and heart disease and two, by repairing the damage that accumulates in our cells as we age – potentially reversing aging. It sounds like science-fiction, but this type of technology, currently under research, could become a reality sooner than you think!

 

Curing cancer

There are many ways nanoparticles are used to cure cancer, but one of the most intriguing methods of targeted chemotherapy is the use of nanoparticles to deliver chemotherapy to a specific tumour. Gold nanorods are inserted into the bloodstream and exit at the site of tumours where blood vessels are leaking. Many nanorods accumulate in the tumour and use infrared light to generate heat to heat-up the tumour. This heat increases stress levels, which in turn increases specific stress-related proteins (p32) on the surface of the tumour. Another nanoparticle carrying the chemotherapy drug (a liposome) is attached to amino acids that bind to p32. Accumulation of this drug-carrying liposome results in targeted delivery of chemotherapy drugs, killing off the tumour with little to no side effects for the patient.

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Image on the left showing Gold Nano-rods.

Image A showing liposome. The red dots are docetaxel (Doc), a potent antimitotic chemotherapy drug that is delivered for targeted chemotherapy by the liposome.

Images taken from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5661837/

 

Another form of targeted cancer treatment is the use of magnetic nanoparticles that attach to free-floating cancer cells in the bloodstream that have shed off tumours, ready to implant at distant sites. These nanoparticles can aid in the removal of cancer cells before they establish new tumours.

 

Extending life

Perhaps one of the most novel and fantastical use of nanotechnology is the idea of a nano-robot called a Chromallocyte.

Photo of what the Chromallocyte is expected to look like

Image taken from: https://jetpress.org/v16/freitas.pdf

 

This robot can perform molecular surgery by extracting all defective or damaged chromosomes from a diseased cell and inserting new ones in their place – a process called chromosome replacement therapy!

The replacement chromosomes are manufactured before the procedure takes place with the patient’s individual genome used as a blueprint to construct the new genetic material. The digitally modified chromosomes are loaded onto each Chromallocyte, which travel to their target tissues. It then enters the nucleus, removes old defective genes, and replaces them with the newly copied chromosomes. It then exits the cell and is removed from the body.

This method could be used to replace inherited faulty genes with healthy ones, permanently curing any genetic diseases. This could even revolutionise cancer therapy by permitting cancerous cells to be reprogrammed to a healthy state. Perhaps the most exciting use of chromosome replacement therapy is the correction of accumulating genetic damage and mutations that lead to aging in our cells – extending lifespan by many years!

These therapeutic advancements are still theoretical, but with rapid advances in technology and genetics, this could become a reality soon!