Nanotech breakthroughs promise better life ahead

June 02 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 7 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

From assembling cells one-by-one into artificial tissues to creating micro-robots that swim through arteries and digestive systems, the magic of nanotech has finally arrived. A major theme of today’s nano-science focuses on strengthening human biology. In fact, of the eight technology advances listed below, seven involve systems that improve health:

1. Nanochips arrange cells to create artificial tissues. Harvard professor Robert Westervelt’s nanochips can move cells around to form new artificial tissues, which could be used to test efficacy of various drugs. This system could be in use by 2010.

2. Nanowires simulate artificial synapses. Harvard researcher Charles Lieber and his team linked silicon nanowires with axons and dendrites of live mammalian neurons, creating artificial synapses between the two. This technology paves the way for powerful neural prosthetics, and opens the door for hybrid nanoelectronic and biological information processing. Animal trials are already underway.

3. Neural data cable connects brains with computers. University of Pennsylvania researcher Doug Smith created a cable made from stretched nerve cells that can connect machines to the human nervous system, which could enable thought control over appliances by as early as 2012.

4. Nanoparticles destroy tumors. Burnham Institute’s Dr. Erkki Ruoslahti, in a joint effort with UC Santa Barbara, fashioned nanoparticles that seek out and kill cancer cells by cutting off their oxygen and nutrient supply. These nano-wonders can also deliver drugs to a specific area without affecting healthy cells. Human trials expected soon.

5. Micro-robots swim like bacterium through arteries. James Friend, Senior Lecturer at Australia’s Monash University and his team believe that by 2009 they can produce micro-robots that can swim through human arteries and digestive systems. These ‘bots will transmit images and deliver microscopic payloads to parts of the body that are beyond the reach of existing technologies. (cont.)

6. DNA becomes workhorse. Researchers around the world are tweaking the once-sacred double-helix to create pyramids and strands that can serve as “nano-scaffolding” for molecular electronics, biosensors, and gene repair. Reprogramming genes could one day eliminate every human disease. Look for clinical trials by 2010.

7. “Swarmanoids” serve their masters. A team at the Free University of Brussels in Belgium plans to build and test a 60-strong swarm of collaborating robots capable of performing household tasks, like tidying up the bedroom or fetching an item for their master. University of Washington physicist Payman Arabshahi believes, “We could even see nano-size ‘swarmanoids’ that self-assemble inside the human body for a certain procedure, then disassemble and self-destruct when finished.” Expect these home servants by 2010-2015.

8. Nanotech solar material promises cheap electricity. Solar panels could be printed on a Saran Wrap-like roll, which entrepreneurs predict will turn rooftops into a sea of inexpensive power-generating stations. Experts say these new systems could slash electric bills in half by 2012.

Today’s nanotech breakthroughs are poised to create a “magical future” unfolding between 2010 and 2020 that promises better health and welfare for all people on Earth. Will this future become reality? Positive thinkers believe that it will! Comments welcome.

(Nanobot Blood Cleaner by MemeBox designer Karl Alverson)

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