The Speculist: The Age of Medical Nanobots is Approaching

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The Age of Medical Nanobots is Approaching

The vision: medical nanobots racing through your bloodstream to the site of bacterial or viral infection... or cancer... or even injury. Once at the site of the dysfunction, the nanobot dumps its medicine cargo. The effectiveness of the drug is increased because its delivered exactly where its needed. Side effects are cut because the medicine doesn't go where its not needed.

This great sci-fi concept is becoming reality:

RNAi, also known as "gene silencing," is a cellular mechanism that blocks the production of proteins, and has tantalized doctors as a potential medicine for a number of years now. However, by placing payloads of RNA in a polymer nanobot, scientists have finally shown that this technique can work against tumors in human patients.

Specially constructed molecules could potentially block the expression of genes critical to the reproduction of viruses and the spread of cancer. But until now, doctors had been unable to direct those molecules to the right cellular nuclei. Scientists from the California Institute of Technology solved this problem by placing the RNA molecules in a specialized polymer robot with a chemical sensor. When the environment of a cancerous cell triggered the chemical sensor, the robot releases the RNA.

The trial involved three people with melanomas who received the RNA-load nanoparticles intravenously four times, for 30 minutes, over three weeks. At the end of that time, samples taken from the melanomas showed both the presence of the RNA, and a reduction in tumor gene expression.

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