Recent advancements in nanotechnology and the field of robotics could mean that small-scale nanobots could soon make their way into operating theaters, experts predict. There are already a few research groups conducting investigations in this field, and some of them have made considerable headway. This is also the case of Nader Jalili, an associate mechanical and industrial engineering professor at the Northwestern University, PhysOrg
reports. The expert has developed a new, tiny robot that will be able to perform non-invasive surgery on human patients within ten years.
Jalili's goal is to produce a nanobot so advanced, that it will be able to perform cancer surgery with a degree of accuracy higher than that possible with all existing methods. The main ability of the new machine will be the fact that it will be accurately controlled from outside the body as it will perform its duties inside. The reason why such robots are heralded as the future of medicine is the fact that they are able to conduct the most complex operations with a high degree of precision and without the mistakes that sometimes plague human doctors. “Precision is one of the most important aspects of a surgical procedure,” Jalili reveals.
The new system will be guided by image-based data, and will therefore be able to navigate through the body, pinpointing the exact location of a tumor or other surgical target with a high degree of accuracy. “While a surgeon’s instruments cannot get to within a millimeter of a tumor, we will be able to precisely guide the robot to a location at a sub-nanometer or nanometer resolution, making us able to see things that we could never see before,” the expert also reveals. He says that his work is being funded by a CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), totaling $400,000 over five years.
He also says that the new machine will not replace surgeons in operating rooms. Rather, the robot will play the role of an observer and will be used as a tool to augment human interventions. Jalili likens the function that the nanobot will serve to that of a plane flown in cruise-control mode. “You don’t want to go to sleep when you’re in cruise control. Surgeons will follow the procedure and will be supervisors in case something goes wrong,” he concludes.