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Nanobots: Futuristic MedTech That Can Change Healthcare Today
The United Nations (UN) estimates that more than five billion people will lack access to essential healthcare services by 2030, such as obtaining necessary medicine and visiting healthcare providers. This issue is further complicated by the increasing shortage of trained healthcare workers, at a time when they are needed more than ever.
These emerging gaps highlight the urgent need to make futuristic medical technology a reality. By leveraging MedTech, patients with non-urgent or non-life-threatening medical needs can perform self-diagnosis, monitoring and treatment that is convenient and reliable, without being dependent on the healthcare system that is stretched so thin. While advanced MedTech includes a wide range of practices, equipment and strategies, one of the most game-changing, emerging technologies available is nanobots.
What are Nanobots?
Nanorobots, nanobots for short, are robots the size of one to 100 nanometers, 10-times smaller than a normal blood cell. The use of nanobots in medicine is focused on precise medical diagnosis and monitoring. Once nanobots are introduced into the body by direct injection into the bloodstream, they act as an internal surveillance system for the human body. These bots can sense changes in environmental stimuli (like temperature and light), check for molecular assembly and diagnose any concerning health conditions. Nanobots, combined with next-generation software platforms, can be used as a strong diagnostic and monitoring tool. Healthcare providers can use nanobots to observe a patient’s health in real-time, monitor daily dietary needs and administer medication. By acting as nano-doctors to aid the overburdened healthcare ecosystem, nanobots can reduce the need of having a specialist constantly monitor the health of vulnerable individuals.
Nanobots in Action
The global market of nanobots is expected to grow with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 25% between 2021 and 2029, starting from $121.6 billion in 2020. The concept of nanotechnology has uses across a wide variety of industries and fields, but research suggests nanomedical applications will dominate as they are expected to account for 35% of the market during the same forecast period. As this technology gains popularity and further advancement, it will spearhead and revolutionize the healthcare industry as we know it today.
Currently, medical applications of nanobots are being evaluated in a variety of different use cases, including:
- Monitoring and diagnosing complex chronic diseases, such as cancer, with the goal of identifying any malignant cells and eradicating afflicted cells as efficiently as possible
- Regulating and monitoring diabetes, as nanobots can constantly monitor blood glucose levels and eliminate the painful procedure of manual blood sampling
- Replacing invasive, painful and time-consuming diagnostic procedures, such as in vivo imaging and biopsies, as well as delicate surgical procedures
- Conducting routine healthcare services, such as cleaning wounds, anesthesia delivery (nanoanesthesia), dental care (nanorobotic dentifrices) and drug delivery (pharmacytes)
- Increasing bioavailablity and the efficiency of drug delivery to targeted malignant cells, which reduces the error scope that arises due to complicated surgical procedures in diseases like Alzheimer’s
The global pandemic is a recent, real-life example of how nanobots could have been used to treat people seriously infected with COVID-19. These individuals typically display low blood oxygen levels, which is often treated with a ventilator and requires constant monitoring. At the height of the pandemic, some regions and countries were unable to meet the increased and urgent demands for oxygen-delivering equipment and faced a shortage of healthcare workers. Using respirocytes (artificial oxygen-carrying nanobots), oxygen can be delivered to any oxygen-deficient cells. Respirocytes can deliver 236 times more oxygen as compared to the natural oxygen delivery process within a body. Additionally, nanobots can be programmed to constantly monitor and report the oxygen levels in real-time. Considering this example, there’s no doubt that nanobots could have made a real impact.
While significant advancements have been made in the development of nanobots, there are still some roadblocks that need to be addressed as the market grows, including:
1. Developmental Challenges: navigating the high cost of development, determining a constant power source and establishing the use of non-reactive materials
2. Evolving Government Regulations: integrating nanobots in medical diagnosis and treatment while following the government regulations
3. Data Privacy: ensuring secure delivery of patient data to appropriate sources
4. Signal Strength: defining the range of signal strength and connection to wireless networks and devices for successful data transmission
6. Measuring Lifespan: determining the lifespan of biodegradable and non-biodegradable nanobots within the human body, and estimating the need to remove/replace the MedTech
Despite these challenges, the benefits of nanobots cannot be ignored. As the medical field evolves, nanobots can play a pivotal role in replacing age-old medical diagnostic equipment and archaic medical methods. Having access to health activities at an atomic level would enable healthcare providers to detect early onset of infections, perform in vitro imaging and biopsies and identify potential diseases. Additionally, employing nanobots would address waiting long hours at a clinic, inconclusive test results, overspending on healthcare procedures and dependencies on the healthcare system. The use of nanobots and other technological advancements have not only the power to provide physician access to the daily health of an individual but also simplify the process of health monitoring overall.