Nanotechnology will revolutionise the way we understand, detect and treat aging.
Operating at scales of one millionth of a millimetre, nanotechnologies have particular properties that can be can exploited for new applications. At the high-water mark of optimism for their future, nanobots will become as essential to Longevity as cells have been to life.
Nanobots will deliver drugs to defective cells, repair tissues and clean blood vessels and airways. This will delay (possibly even reverse) the aging process by detecting and preventing molecular damage caused as an unintended consequence cell reproduction. Nanobots may cure aging before it ever begins.
This reality is a long way away, but its first stirrings are already with us. Researchers are making key breakthroughs in designing nanoparticles that will be able to deliver drugs, heat or light to specific cell types. Direct treatment is enabled by engineering nanoparticles to be attracted to diseased or aging cells, making damage to healthy cells minimal and resulting in earlier detection. Some think that nanobots will ultimately be programmed to repair aged or diseased cells on an individual basis, mimicking and enhancing our immune system and natural healing processes.
The US has spent nearly $4bn through its National Nanotechnology Initiative, Europe has spent over $1.2bn and Japan almost $1bn. The investment is out there, but the regulatory landscape, however, is undefined. The European Union said in its recent nanotechnology report that it is still difficult to frame a new regulatory agenda specific to nanotechnologies which will act as a barrier to commercialisation.
Cost effectiveness is also a big hurdle; a recent study from Stanford University School of Medicine found that despite producing no better an outcome, robot assisted surgery for kidney removal had a price-tag significantly higher than the traditional method. In order to leap this barrier, nanomachines will have to strike out in areas where their techniques offer a significant improvement from those they are replacing.
There are also important developments that still need to be made. Propulsion systems, methods of marking out target cells and biodegradability are all still challenges. One of the most serious difficulties the field faces is designing a method of tracking to ensure the machines are working correctly and removed safely once they have finished. Poorly implemented nanotechnologies would cause more problems than they solve, so the challenge for investors will be to find researchers and companies who have formulated the right approach.