If any of you have ever played the Metal Gear Solid series, you'll
remember that a lot of the soldiers had microscopic robots known as
nanites in their bloodstream, which served to keep them
healthy-recycling waste, destroying bacteria, all that fun stuff. That
sounds like some absurd pipe dream from the realm of science fiction,
Tell that to IBM. They just took the first step in developing the technology.
Recently, the scientific publication known as Nature Chemistry published a very exciting article regarding a recent invention developed by IBM's Almaden Research Centre: Biodegradable nanoparticles. For anyone who doesn't know, current antibiotics interfere with the DNA of bacteria, preventing them from replicating or multiplying.That's all fine and dandy, but there's a lot of bacteria that are developing a resistance to antibiotics. (Nanomedicine/Australian Broadcasting Company).
After all, if there's one thing that we know about germs, it's that they evolve very quickly
That might not matter anymore, though. The lead scientist, Dr. Jim Hendrick, had a lot to say about this discovery, including a layman's explanation of how the invention works. And really, why shouldn't he? It's one of the most fascinating technological developments we've seen in quite some time.
"The particles are approximately 200 manometers in size- about 50,000 times smaller than a human hair. They're designed to be cationic- positively charged. The bacterial wall has an inherent charge to it and they begin to selectively interact with one another. One the particles hit the bacterial wall, they begin to destabilize and basically drill holes in the bacterial wall, at which time the contents spill. Nasty for the bacteria, but it shows no haemolysis or cytotixicity in normal cells". (Australian Broadcasting Company)
Okay, so maybe it's....not completely in layman's terms. Basically, IBM's developed nanoparticles that actively seek out foreign bacteria in the body, and drill holes in the cell walls of said bacteria, killing them Got a nasty infection that's resisting all the antibiotics? No problem,. just toss these nanoparticles at them, and you're free and clear.
Sadly, this incredible new technology is still in testing stages. It's not certain if these particles will attack other cells or organs as well as the bacteria- they're still working on a way to have the particles identify the foreign entities that they target with their attacks. Basically, they could potentially go for any positively charged cell- which includes a lot of cells in the human body (with the notable exception of blood cells). Don't worry, though-they've already tested the nanoparticles on small animals, and the results are "extraordinarily promising." (Australian Broadcasting Company).
What's more, there are multiple avenues of application. This nanoparticle substance can be applied as a liquid, a solid, or as a gel. They're collaborating with a team in Singapore, soon to go into testing on larger animal models. Sadly,it might be some time until we're able to see solid results from this new technology- they're probably not going to move into testing on human subjects for at least another five years.(Australian Broadcasting Company).
To be fair, it's not quite a nanomachine. Not yet. But just the same,it's one huge step forward.
I'll give you an idea of why this is so exciting by giving you a look into what I'm thinking. Right about now, I'm imagining someone in the emergency room, with a
gash in their arm. They go in to see the doctor, he rubs a small
quantity of gel on them, and the wound closes as if it was never there
to begin with.
Granted, that sort of thing's far in the future, but....we now have the technology. Even if it's still in its budding stages, we'll likely see wounds and illnesses treated with nanotechnology within the next half century.
Yet again, science fiction seems less like the exclusive realm of imagination.