Sunday, February 12, 2012

NASA's Implantable Biocapsule Can Automatically Diagnose and Treat Disease

Every geek comes with his or her own personal obsession with a particular bit of future technology. Weather it's something born purely of the imagination of a sci-fi writer like a light saber, or some speculative bit of real world technology that's seemingly just around the corner, we all have one. Mine, well... one of mine, is the promise of the manipulation of the human body and immune system, through the use of nanotechnology. And while true nanomachines are admittedly still a distant dream, nanotechnology itself is a very real part of our world, and NASA's newly designed, disease treating Biocapsule implant, is a particularly stunning example of that fact.

Designed by Dr. David Loftus, NASA's new Biocapsule is a tiny device built from carbonnanotubes that would be surgically inserted just beneath the patients skin. These Biocapsules would be filled with cells primed to to detect and cure specific ailments, and would do so automatically, by releasing therapeutic molecules (proteins, peptides), via diffusion across the capsule wall. Though designed to treat astronauts during long-term missions -specifically for radiation exposure- these devices could obviously also be adapted to treat any number of illnesses right here on Earth. They could even be used to administer targeted chemotherapy treatments or perhaps take the place of insulin injections, as explained by Dr. Loftus:

"The capsule would contain pancreatic islet cells (from animals) or would contain engineered cells designed to behave like pancreatic islet cells, with both glucose-sensing and insulin secretion function. Patients with low-insulin requirement might benefit from implantation of a single capsule (containing perhaps a million to 10 million cells); patients with higher insulin requirement might require implantation of more than one capsule."

Though it will still likely be another 15-20 years before we can realistically hope to see these capsules put to use on human patients. Unlike so many other speculative advances in technology and medicine, the implants in question actually already exist, and are set to move on to the animal testing phase sometime in the near future. So while it's tempting for me to dismiss headlines promising these devices to be set to " change the future of medicine", as just another bit of wishful thinking that's just too good to be true. From time to time, some amazing thing comes along that isn't based solely on hopeful speculation, and really could have world changing implications. And this -seems anyway- like it might actually be one of those things.



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