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Cancer-Fighting Nanobots

Written by Jason Stutman
Posted December 30, 2014

As the year comes to a close, here's some news to get you excited about 2015...

In the next 12 months, a cancer patient will receive a groundbreaking medical treatment that's expected to “revolutionize everything we know about drugs [and] everything we know about medicine,” according to researchers originally based out of Harvard University's Wyss Institute.

The treatment, like something out of a science fiction film, could mark the very first time in history that humans are able to leverage the power of nano-sized robots to fight disease...

This is not a joke. It's not a publicity stunt. It's not hyperbole.

In 2015, scientists will use a syringe to inject trillions of 50 nm-sized robots into a patient with late-stage leukemia.

If the trials go as planned, we'll all be witness to one of the single greatest advancements in modern science — if not all of history.

Nano-Doctor

The nanobots that will be used in these trials are made with DNA strands that fold and unfold like origami. These pieces of “DNA Origami” function like mini-computers and are programmed to carry out basic tasks, such as body scanning and molecular transport.

The team developing the technology believes it can scale up the computing power of the robots to that of an 8-bit computer. That's the equivalent of a Commodore 64 or Atari 800 from the 1980s.

In the most basic sense, the nanobots work as delivery vehicles for medicine. They fold around a therapeutic capable of killing cancer (or virtually any other disease) and direct it to the appropriate site.

Once there, the nanobots unfold and let the therapeutic do the work.

dna origami

A press release from Harvard's Wyss Institute describes the process in more detail:

The DNA barrel, which acts as a container, is held shut by special DNA latches that can recognize and seek out combinations of cell-surface proteins, including disease markers. When the latches find their targets, they reconfigure, causing the two halves of the barrel to swing open and expose its contents, or payload. The container can hold various types of payloads, including specific molecules with encoded instructions that can interact with specific cell surface signaling receptors.

As of today, the nanobots can already recognize up to a dozen different cancer types, including leukemia and solid tumors.

Lead researcher Ido Bachelet believes cancer is just one possible application for the robots, though, having proposed diabetes and spinal cord injury as additional targets for the technology.

Without the experimental nanobot treatment, the patient in question is expected to die by the summer of 2015. Based on animal trials, though, researchers believe the cancer can be removed within just a month of treatment.

For now, all we can really do is keep our fingers crossed and hope things pan out as planned. Bachelet and his team have so far been successful in animal trials, but the researchers are taking a giant leap in moving from a cockroach model to a human model this year.

The real test will be in how the human immune system responds to the foreign nanobots. The technology is reportedly capable of evading our natural defenses, but only clinical trials will truly inform us of whether or not this is possible without harmful toxicity results.

Nanotechnology in 2015

Even in the event that these clinical trials fail, there seems to be no stopping the global trend towards developing smaller, nano-sized technology — both in and outside the field of medicine.

According to research group RNCOS, the global nanotechnology market is anticipated to grow at a CAGR of around 16.5% from 2014 through 2020. For perspective, that's 5.5% greater than the expected growth rate of hydraulic fracturing through 2018.

Further, there are now over 1,600 consumer products using nanotechnology in the market today, according to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies in Washington, D.C. That's a 24% increase in the past four years.

Nanotechnologies already available today include artificial muscle fibers, self-healing plastics, and even electricity-generating viruses.

Even the clothing industry has begun to feel the effects of nanotech — Eddie Bauer, for instance, is currently using embedded nanoparticles to create stain-repellent khakis.

At first glance, something like stain-resistant clothing may seem like a simple innovation, but the impact is wider-reaching than many people may realize. Consider, for example, that as this technology becomes more common, dry cleaners will find their business declining, and detergent makers will find less demand for their products.

The effects of nanotechnology on the market over the next few years will not always be as straightforward as a company developing cancer-fighting nanobots, but they will be prevalent nonetheless.

In 2015, you can expect some of the best opportunities in nanotech to exist in the specialized material, semiconductor, and energy industries. Chip manufacturing and battery development are also segments worth keeping an eye on, with graphene having some particularly interesting applications in the pipeline.

Until next time,

  JS Sig

Jason Stutman

follow basic @JasonStutman on Twitter

Jason Stutman is Wealth Daily's senior technology analyst and editor of investment advisory newsletters Technology and Opportunity and Topline Trader. His strategy for building winning portfolios is simple: Buy the disruptor, sell the disrupted.

Covering the broad sector of technology and occasionally dabbling in the political sphere, Jason has written hundreds of articles spanning topics from consumer electronics and development stage biotechnology to political forecasting and social commentary.

Outside the office Jason is a lover of science fiction and the outdoors. He writes through the lens of a futurist, free market advocate, and fiscal conservative. Jason currently hails from Baltimore, Maryland, with roots in the great state of New York.

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