The concept of tiny robots swimming through the bloodstream has existed for decades. The idea was made famous by the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage, in which a human team is shrunk to fit into a submarine measuring one micrometer to dissolve a patient's blood clot. Nanotechnology expert Chris Phoenix even floated the idea of replacing blood with a network of robots known as the vasculoid. They system could hypothetically replicate the function of blood while staving off infections and cancer, and eliminating vascular diseases such as atherosclerosis.
Less far-fetched is a Ukrainian research project that proposes using nanobots to attack atherosclerotic plaque. At present, rotational atherectomy can be used to remove plaque, but can lead to problems such as an increased risk of heart attack during the procedure.
A nanotechnology-based system could overcome these hurdles by making the procedure non-invasive. The Ukranian-based Nanobotmodels Company has created an animation showing how this might work.
The technology leverages work from Eric Drexler, PhD, who came up for the word nanotechnology in the 1980s. The system would use a slide rod designed to intersect another rod at a right angle. The position of the first rod either enables the second rod to move or remain still. The binary possibilities provide the basis for the logical functions of the anti-atherosclerosis nanorobot. A network of such robots, which could be individually controlled, could be leveraged against plaque deposits. To see how the technology might work, check out the video below. (The fun begins at about 2:20 minutes in.)
The researchers estimate that the technology is at least a decade away from commercialization.