Nanobot-based Cancer Treatment Clinical Trial Slated For 2015

Nanotechnology as a concept is not new, nor is the idea of using it in medicine. The first reference to building micro-machines to support medicine can be traced back to a 1959 paper published by noted theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, who speculated in his celebrated paper on nanorobotics of a time when we could “swallow the doctor.” The notion captivated the imagination of scientists and citizens alike, and became the basis for science fiction movies long before it would find a home in the lab.

Real scientific research on the use of nanobots in medicine began to take shape in the 90s, when the National Nanotechnology Institute was formed within the National Institute of Health and funded to the tune of $3.6 billion. Since its formation, nanotechnology research has proliferated both in the US and globally.

Several new therapies have already received FDA approval for use treating cancer that rely on nanoparticle delivery vehicles, but to date, none have used computer programs that control smart nanobots capable of performing targeted drug delivery. Scientists hope that by creating smart nanobots, they will be able to program them to deliver highly toxic medicines directly to cancer tumors without compromising surrounding tissue. Currently, there are several cancer medicines that have failed to secure FDA approval because despite being effective at killing cancer cells, they are too toxic to be delivered without a controlled mechanism like a smart nanobot.

In April 2014, Dr. Ido Bachelet, an MIT and Harvard trained pharmacologist, announced that his team at Bar-Ilan University, in Israel, had successfully developed a nano-sized capsule made of DNA and capable of performing the same logic operations as a silicon-based computer processor. The researchers injected the capsules into cockroaches and were able to control them, claiming that “the accuracy of delivery and control of the nanobots is equivalent to a computer system.” At the time, researchers speculated that the capsules should be able to scale up to provide the computing power of an 8-bit computer, equivalent to an Atari 800 or Commodore 64.

Next year, Bachelet will conduct clinical trials that will test his new smart nanobots in humans. In the trial, a patient with late-stage, terminal leukemia will have trillions of nanobots injected into his system. The nanobots are programmed to deliver powerful cancer medications, but only when they come into contact with cancer cells. Without the new treatment, it is expected that the patient will die sometime during the summer of 2015, but with the treatment, researchers hope that the cancer can be completely eradicated before the end of the summer.

Some may justifiably say that forecasting such life-changing results is irresponsibly speculative, especially since clinical trials have not yet kicked off, and no human testing has ever taken place. However, the researchers have a well documented trail of successful animal-based experiments leading up to the trials, and have reason to be optimistic. If the trial is successful, it will be a watershed moment for nanotechnology and will validate years of work put in by nanoaparticle engineers around the world over the last two decades.

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