Innerspace – Part II
Posted by evolvingwheel on January 20, 2007
Its like revisiting Fantastic Voyage. A recent article in WIRED News (Fantastic Voyage: Departure 2009) sounds like a SciFi story in line with the script of 1987’s Innerspace. James Friend and his buddies at Micro/Nanophysics Research Laboratory are building a flagellated robot of 250 micron capable of swimming upstream through he human arteries and operating at desired locations unreachable by todays’s conventional methods. Isn’t that amazing! Just knocked my socks off when I tried to imagine its implications. What a massive engineering feat. A motor fitted in a capsule as wide as 2 human hairs that is driven by the mechanical pressure exerted by the rushing bloodstream running down the arterial network. The components are mind boggling: a micro level piezoelectric slab, mechanical flagella, a circuit, a power supply – all stacked together in a carrier that travels to a microscopic tumor or a blod clot in the middle of the brain. Innovation at its best.
Now lets dig into the possibilities that diverge from the commercialization of such technology in medical science. What always interests me is the ramification in other industrial developments and scientific researches. There are numerous opportunities. One is definitely material research in micro level. How can we develop materials that operate under severe size and conductive restrictions. May be we will try to mimic the natural phenomenon in artificial devices but in microscopic level. Another industry could be the commercialization of power supplies that are derived from molecular configurations and their alterations. Microbot development could also trigger research in molecular and genetic payloads which are capable of reaching highly sophisticated targets and reacting by chemical interaction to diffuse or instigate actions as required. Molecular genetics will be definitely worth following. I would also like to emphasize on the growth of a sector in medical profession where doctors will be acting like astronauts. Think of Dr. John Doe sitting on his special chair half inclined, with a hi-tech pair of goggles, and his both hands holding two joysticks that drive the microbot to the smallest cavity in the middle of the brain. As he smoothly rotates the stick, his right thumb presses a red button that ejects a micro amount of a synthetic glue to seal a ruptured vein.
It might sound great to have the patient check into the medical center, sit on a half inclined bed, get injected with a bot, and watch a Seinfeld rerun while the doctor finishes a delicate surgery in his brain. But…. but.. any invention is successful only to the extent of its availability. Along with the economics involved with the commercialization, what matters most is its implementation. Currently there are so many life saving drugs waiting for years to get approved by the FDA. Then there are ethical, political, and social questions associated with every aspect of a new drug or a technique. The medical industry doesn’t operate like the software or the hardware industry. Thus, the procedure might need some big shot pharmaceutical or medical device company to bring it to the market. However, in that case we face the inevitable question – will the new method be available at a reasonble price? Will not the implementor try to make huge profits and pass on the cost to the average patient? How receptive will the insurance companies be? So there are so many questions…….. and we will keep looking for answers.. and I ask you to look for too 🙂
However, for now lets savor the wonderful feeling of crossing the thin line between reality and science fiction!