Nanotechnology has long fascinated me, ever since the subject was a gleam in Eric Drexler's eye. Indeed, when his book Engines of Creation first appeared, I bought it and devoured it in a day. Back then, the promise was a whole new kind of technology, and medicine. In recent years, it became a more personal interest, as I befriended someone with Morgellon's disease, who, along with his doctor, are convinced that at least some of the strange material they see growing from his sores is nanoengineering, gone horribly wrong, or worse, horribly according to plan.
But the promise remains as well, and I ran across this interesting article at phys.org on the most recent studies:
The implications here are worth spelling out, and, like all human technologies, there's a good side, and a bad side. First, the good side. I'm sure all of us have had someone close to us - perhaps a family member or close friend - who has had cancer of one form or another, and had to undergo chemotherapy, a process that is often as painful and debilitating as the disease itself, simply because the method of delivering the drugs into the cancer cells is so inefficient: the body literally has to be "saturated" with the drugs in order to be effective. Imagine now being able to deliver drugs directly into cancerous cells on a cell-by-cell basis. The above-mentioned study brings us a step closer, for scientists have now determined the most optimal shape for a nano-delivered drug vehicle. Program that vehicle to "recognize" the genetic material of a cancer cell, and that nano-delivery vehicle snags cancer cells, latches on to them, and delivers its drug directly into the cells. Gone would be the days of having to "saturate" the body with chemotherapy. Indeed, viewed a certain way, a cell - its DNA - is already a kind of nanotechnology. Nor should we dismiss this study as "just a study" for scientists have now been "nanoengineering" for some time. Indeed, Drexler himself pointed out in his book that scientists at IBM had spelled out their company name using a few xenon atoms, and that Bell labs had even constructed humanity's first artificial atom.... and that was back in the 1980s (if I recall correctly).
But all that, of course, spells out the "down" side: for such vehicles of delivery could also be made into powerful, potent, biological or chemical weapons as well, and it would be virtually undetectable. Nano-delivery vehicles could be injected into foodstuffs, air, water, anything really, and then delivered to a target individual or group. This means we can expect that the next meme we will hear about will be "nano-security"... watch the boys at DARPA carefully folks, and rest assured, they're already talking about it.
See you on the flip side.