Probably in the near future tiny machines will be inserted into it and will be able to detect infections inside the body, tissue damage, injuries, hormonal imbalances and other conditions. These nano-robots will also be able to act according to the way we programmed them. This is just the beginning on the way to better people. Dr.Roey Tsezana investigates what will happen. chapter number
Over the past two years, Dr.Roey Tsezana has spent dozens of hours in interviews with experts from the most advanced technological companies on the market, with senior officials in the Israeli economy and government ministries, and with renowned professors in academia. The goal: "The Guide to the Future" - a book that tries to predict the next revolutions. The book will be published with the funding of the readers and you can also participate. The following is taken from the book and abridged for publication.
We live in a world where it is easy to differentiate between the living and the inanimate. The hammer we use to drive a nail is not like a dog, a cat, or even a snail. It is still, solid and has no movement of its own. Similarly, even the most sophisticated robot today appears to be a poor human imitation.
Many science fiction films have been based on the clear difference between the clumsy artificial robot and the human. Some of the creators of the films and series went further and combined robots and humans in one body to create cyborgs: cybernetic organisms, or in simple language - living beings that integrate machines in their bodies. These cyborgs are often strange and terrifying looking creatures. They use large cameras instead of human eyes, and measure mechanically on cold robotic legs. These creatures, some have predicted that they will one day replace the human race, are far from being effective, and it is hard to believe that they will ever come into use.
The real future is much more interesting. The true cyborgs of the future will be nothing like the clumsy combination of man and machine we imagine today. In fact, most likely they will look like me and you - but healthier. And all because the new machines we are starting to produce will not resemble the large and bulky mechanical and electronic devices of today. They will be almost completely biological, and will integrate with the body naturally. These will be nanotechnological machines, some of which will be smaller than human cells and even bacteria, and the most sophisticated of them may be defined as real living machines.
To understand this vision for the future, we need to first get to know the field of nanotechnology.
The engines of creation
In 1986, Eric Drexler leaned back in his chair at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and sighed with satisfaction. He finished writing the first draft of a book that stimulated the imagination of thousands of scientists and inspired many young people to enter the world of science and technology. Shortly after, the book "Engines of Creation" was published - and the world of nanotechnology changed forever.
What is nanotechnology? The word "nano", when paired with a unit of measure such as a meter, describes size. The height of an average five-year-old child is one meter. If we divide the meter by a thousand, then we will get a 'millimeter' (thousandth of a meter), which is the length of the louse sitting on that child's head. If we divide the millimeter by ten, we get a result of one hundred micrometers, or one hundred millionths of a meter, and this is the thickness of the hair to which the louse clings. If we divide the thickness of a hair by ten again, we get a result of ten micrometers: the diameter of an average human cell, which is so small that it cannot be seen with the naked eye. If we divide the diameter of the cell by ten, we arrive at one micrometer. This is the length of most bacteria.
And now, take the bacterium and divide its length by a thousand. The resulting result will be (finally) a nanometer, or a billionth of a meter. This is the unit of measure used by us to measure the size of molecules - atoms connected to each other to form compounds.
In his book The Engines of Creation, Drexler made an almost revolutionary claim. He believed that one day we would be able to create machines and even robots the size of single molecules. Namely, nano-robots and nano-machines. These machines will be able to break down other molecules into individual atoms, and reassemble the atoms into different shapes. This will be nanotechnology, the products of which will be molecules of any type we want. The nanotechnological machines will be able to be used by us to create medicines, food, fuel materials, and in fact any material we can think of in the present and especially in the future.
Drexler's vision is already today on the verge of realization. After all, what are bacteria if not machines that produce for us the molecules and substances we desire? However, the future that Drexler foretold is not limited to creating materials efficiently, because the same nanomachines will also be able to move around the living body, fight diseases and repair the body without interruption.
Already today we are building tiny machines that are able to swim in the bloodstream and between the cells, repair our bodies and interface with them. These nanomachines are an inseparable part of the natural revolution, and in the distant future they may also provide the key to a very long and healthy life. Long, in fact, without limit.
The first time I entered Dr. Ido Betzelat's laboratory at Bar Ilan University, I stopped in surprise and stared around me. The place was very different from the neat scientific laboratory I had imagined. To my left, right at the entrance, there was a large aquarium with cockroaches running frantically in front of the small camera that recorded them. In the next room I found shelves loaded with Lego bricks, and next to them on the table a large XNUMXD printer, sitting next to a soldering station and tools.
No, this was definitely not an ordinary biological laboratory.
After enjoying the initial look of shock on my face, he squeezed my hand and respectfully led me to the cockroach aquarium. He asked me to choose one of them. I voted for the thinnest. Onion put his hand into the aquarium and picked up the surprised insect without hesitation. He put it in a glass, and put the dish in the freezer for several minutes.
"It's the best way to put them to sleep." he said semi-apologetically. After a few minutes he opened the refrigerator door and took out the sleeping cockroach. At this time, one of the students already brought him a tiny syringe. I examined him curiously. The syringe contained five million liters of clear liquid - less than the size of one drop of water on the tip of a finger.
"This volume is enough to contain several million of the robots we have developed in our laboratory. Each of them is able to do a certain action inside the insect's body." An onion answered my unasked question. "But first they have to get in."
He gently inserted the needle between the cockroach's armored scales, and injected the entire contents into the tiny body. "We'll go eat and drink something now." said. "At this time, my robots should be able to move around among the cockroach's body cells, recognize the cells we programmed them to recognize, and activate the medicine they carry on them."
One of the biggest problems that bothered Drexler at the time was how to create the nanomachines. These machines are so tiny that they can only be seen with the most sophisticated microscopes, and it is almost impossible to manipulate them by mechanical means. How, then, can we create such nanomachines?
Onion solved the problem in an elegant way, using a method invented in 2006 called 'DNA Origami'. The method relies on the properties of the DNA molecule, from which the genetic code is composed.
This molecule is long and twisted, and different parts of it can stick and adhere to each other and fold just as a sheet of paper can go through folds to create a three-dimensional shape.
In his laboratory, Bazelat plans the DNA strands in advance, which can be produced relatively easily. He dictates where the sticky areas will appear in the content, which will cause the molecule to fold exactly the way he chooses, and create a nanometer-sized machine that will perform a certain action inside the body. He calls these machines nano-robots.
"From the moment they are in the body, they will go to the right place and do the action we programmed them to do." He says. "These are robots for everything. Just as you send robots to areas that humans cannot enter, so you can use the nanorobots to penetrate the body and control the release of drugs, perform small-scale surgeries, and even reconstruct tissue."
to computer the body
When Bezlet was still in his youth, he wanted to be a doctor. At some point he gave up on the dream, and focused on his doctoral studies at the university in the field of pharmacology and drug design. In the next phase of his career, he concentrated on the study of termites and the social behaviors of insects, from there he moved to Harvard and started creating origami DNA. What is the wonder, therefore, that his studies combine all these fields of knowledge together? He creates nano-robots that act like termites and control drugs inside the body. And in the future they will control much more.
"We are able to computerize almost our entire reality and control almost every aspect of it through computers." He says. "This is the challenge we took on. We are trying to computerize molecules and computerize the human body. That is, to automate every molecule in the human body."
Every disease in the body begins and ends with molecules. There are diseases that cause an excess of molecules in a certain place - for example, in the case where the artery begins to become blocked as a result of the accumulation of cholesterol inside the walls of the artery (a process that eventually leads to a heart attack), or in metabolic diseases such as Krabbe's disease in which certain molecules accumulate in the nerves and impair their ability to transmit messages and messages to the brain .
If we could enter each and every cell, or into the arteries themselves, and pull out the harmful molecules, then we would have a solution to a large part of the diseases. But for that, billions of "tweezers" are needed that will penetrate the cells and the body and pull out the trillions of harmful molecules. This is not a task that a human doctor can perform, but the nanorobots may succeed in the task. In the end.
"When you have to change something in the body today, to remove for example a sclerotic plaque that develops in an artery, you have to cut the person, enter the body and remove it." I agree with the onion. "But if you knew how to control molecules, you wouldn't have to do it. You could dissolve it and move it to a less dangerous place. The computers know how to control many things in our world, but we are not able to control the molecules inside the body. In order to be able to control them, we build machines that can interface with molecules inside a living body.
These machines should be able to enter the body and live in coexistence with it, and on the other hand, be an interface between us and the molecules. We know how to program these machines and tell them what to do."
In recent years, Bazelat and his colleagues at Harvard have used the DNA origami method to create nanorobots capable of carrying molecules in the bloodstream, and releasing them only when they are close to certain cells. In the most important study that demonstrated the capabilities of the nanorobots, they were able to focus on cancer cells, stick to them and release messages that killed the cancer cells immediately. This is promising progress towards the development of additional treatments for cancer, since a cancerous tumor, after all, is just a large group of cells that have gotten out of control and are constantly dividing. If we eliminate the cells - we will also eliminate the tumor.
Although the operation of the robots was demonstrated in laboratory tissue cultures and not in the living body, Zelat is currently working on demonstrating their operation inside the body of animals. And specifically, inside the cockroaches.
In onion's far-reaching visions, he sees a future where we can take a capsule every morning that will contain nanorobots that will detect infections inside the body, tissue damage, injuries, hormonal imbalances and other conditions. These robots will also be able to act according to the way we programmed them, and reduce the excess of harmful molecules in the body.
When Dr. Tal Dvir entered his new laboratory at Tel Aviv University in 2011, he brought with him a handsome dowry: the knowledge and experience he acquired at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in growing 'cyborg' tissues: tissues that combine electronics and living cells in their content, and manage to continue to function and even thrive .
"We combined two technologies." Dvir tells me. "One of nanoelectronics, and the other of small nanofibers that feel the electric field around them."
Dvir grew different types of cells on scaffolds - three-dimensional networks designed to give tissues shape and strength. "In the beginning, we grew several types of cells in scaffolds, inside which an array of nanofibers was integrated. The goal was to get electrical readings of heart muscle cells or nerves, or readings of the acidity level of the engineered tissue."
"Today, in our laboratory at Tel Aviv University, we are taking the project one step further. We make a similar array of electrodes and create engineered rat heart muscle tissue within the scaffold. Now we are going to take these tissues with the electronics in them and implant them in animals that have had a heart attack. After the transplant, we will be able to see the activity of the heart after the damage to it, and the even greater innovation is that we will also be able to stimulate the cells and create a biological pacemaker in the area of the scar."
There is still a long way to go until the time when we can develop human engineered tissues and implant them in humans without side effects or harm to health. Nevertheless, the potential is mind-boggling. Tissues containing electronic components will be able to monitor and regulate heart rate in the elderly, increase on demand in soldiers charging forward on the battlefield, or decrease when they need sleep. Electrically conductive nanofibers will be able to stimulate the skeletal muscles while sleeping or working in the office, similar to light sports activity, and increase physical fitness. The same nanofibers will also be responsible for certain glands and will be able to encourage them to release hormones - starting with sex hormones such as testosterone or estrogen, and ending with growth hormones that are responsible for a large part of the body's operation, including the growth and aging process.
All these developments are dwarfed by Dvir's vision for the distant future, who is already thinking about integrating his nanoelectronics into the human brain. "In the future, it will be possible to move forward and create prostheses for the brain, with a XNUMXD network of neurons that we can control and give them stimuli." He predicts. "This technology has far-reaching and futuristic possibilities."
Summary and prediction
There is no doubt that the biological machines are going to help humans deal with a wide variety of diseases in the coming decades. They will do this more effectively than any drug available today, and with minimal side effects. Their action can extend the lives of billions of people for many years, and save countless others.
But this is the trivial prediction.
The culmination of the natural revolution will come when the biological machines are assimilated as a natural part of the body, not with the aim of rehabilitating the person, but with the aim of improving the body and enhancing its abilities. These machines, which will be programmable, will give the user the ability to change the most basic functions of his body. They will be able to break down alcohol in the bloodstream to prevent drunkenness - or alternatively, produce alcohol on demand. Some of them will be able to contain oxygen and release it in situations of suffocation (for example, when the person drowns or suffocates) to buy the body and brain a few more minutes of grace. Others will be able to integrate with the muscles and strengthen them, create hormones as needed, or turn genes on and off all over the body.
The man of the future, therefore, is going to be a more advanced version of the humans that exist today. He will control his body at a level that exists today only in science fiction books - although scientists in their laboratories are beginning to predict it. He will be immune to diseases and able to deal with harsh and extreme environmental conditions, including heat, cold and even lack of oxygen for a short time. He will be fitter, more athletic, and much healthier.
When will these predictions come true? The basis for the technologies already exists today in the laboratories, but there is still a long way to go until they reach the stage where they will be practically assimilated into humans. Many decades will pass until we reach this level, but at the rate of current scientific and technological progress, there is no doubt that we will see them assimilated into humans many years before the end of this century. Even if I myself don't get to inject these tiny helpers into my body, my children or grandchildren will already enjoy them. Thanks to them I can say with justified pride that they will become much better people than I ever was.