Originally Published MPMN March 2005
To Eternity, and Beyond
Would you like to live forever? Many people would. After all, humans have been trying to achieve immortality since the beginning of time. But now, finally, maybe it will soon be within our grasp.
That is according to award-winning scientist Ray Kurzweil. He says that infinite life spans might soon be possible due to recent technology explosions, especially in gene therapy.
In his book, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, the 2002 Inventors Hall of Fame inductee writes that researchers today are on the verge of controlling how genes express themselves. Once this is achieved, doctors could begin to block disease-causing genes and introduce new ones that could slow or stop the aging process.
But Kurzweil goes even further. He predicts a nanotechnology and artificial intelligence revolution in the near future, with one of its outcomes being the creation of nanobots. These devices are blood cell-sized robots that swarm throughout the body, repairing bones, muscles, arteries, and brain cells. He says these machines will destroy disease and obliterate known limits on human intelligence.
Before you dismiss all this as the ravings of a mad scientist, consider this: Australian scientists have recently succeeded in using gene therapy to repair damaged tissue in human heart cells. "This will be like a biological pacemaker with long-term effects, and it means the patient won't have to go back to the hospital to have it replaced," says Moira Clay, research manager for that country's National Heart Foundation.
So, is nanotechnology the wave of the future for medical device manufacturers? Very likely, given the following.
Medicine, especially medical research, demands cutting-edge, high-tech tools. Device manufacturers are challenged with creating products that are ever smaller and ever more precise and effective.
With nanotechnology, tools can be made so small that they can fit inside a living cell. Hundreds or thousands of tiny sensors can be implanted inside the body to gather data on various systems. Real-time monitoring of certain conditions, such as blood sugar levels or heart rates can be achieved.
Also using nanotechnology, instruments such as a complete surgical robot can be made no bigger than a hypodermic needle.
So yes, nanotechnology may very well be the future of medical treatments. Already some medical device manufacturers in the United States have joined the nanotechnology revolution. Biophiltre LLC (Burlingame, CA) is developing a wearable artificial kidney from a nanotechnology membrane that is only one molecule thick. The device would provide an alternative to traditional dialysis for patients with kidney failure.
Another company, Biophan (West Henrietta, NY), makes nanobased coatings for medical device implants that enable patients with them to undergo MRI scans. Without the coatings, the implants would heat up to dangerous levels and injure patients. Biophan collaborates with NASA and medical device manufacturers such as Boston Scientific to find practical applications for nanotechnology.
The possibilities are endless for nanotechnology in medical devices. And if Ray Kurzweil is right, so might be our life spans.
Susan Wallace, Managing Editor
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