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Robert A. Freitas Jr. - Why you should care about molecular nanotechnology

Why should you care about molecular nanotechnology? Nanomedicine

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Copyright 2004 Robert A. Freitas Jr., J.D.
author,
Nanomedicine, Vol I and IIA

When doctors gain access to medical robots, they will be able to quickly cure most known diseases that hobble and kill people today, to rapidly repair most physical injuries our bodies can suffer, and to vastly extend the human health span. Molecular nanotechnology is destined to become the core technology underlying all of 21st century medicine.

Nanotechnology applied to medicine means controlling biologically relevant structures with molecular precision. Even now, nanomedicine is already exploring how to use carbon buckyballs, dendrimers (spherical treelike molecules), and other cleverly engineered nanoparticles in novel drugs to combat viruses, bacteria, and cancer. But in 10-20 years we may learn how to build the first medical nanorobots. These will be devices the size of a microbe, though incapable of self-replication, containing onboard sensors, computers, manipulators, pumps, pressure tanks and power supplies. Building such sophisticated molecular machine systems will require molecular manufacturing — both the ability to make atomically precise objects, probably using diamond or other similarly rigid materials, and the ability to make precise objects in very large numbers, probably using massively parallel assembly lines in nanofactories.

What would medical nanorobots be good for?

Theoretical designs for artificial red blood cells (respirocytes) and artificial white blood cells (microbivores) suggest typical performance improvements of 100- to 1000-fold over natural biological systems. A heavy infusion of respirocytes would allow you to survive four hours without breathing, as during a drowning accident or a heart attack. Injecting a few cc's of microbivores would clear a bloodborne bacterial infection in minutes to hours rather than taking weeks to months using present-day antibiotics. Artificial platelets could staunch bleeding in seconds. Tissue-repair nanorobots could selectively dissolve cancerous tumors or rebuild wounded flesh in minutes or hours. Chromosome replacement therapy will allow us to replace our old worn-out genes with new digitally-correct chromosome copies installed in every tissue cell of our bodies. Such therapies will eliminate all genetic diseases and reverse other accumulated defects that lead to aging, augmenting human healthspan at least tenfold.

This is a future worth caring about — and worth working diligently to bring to pass.


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