Working nanomedicine - "wet" applications of nanotechnology, both the future of molecular manufacturing and less advanced, more business-friendly definitions - will be a very important step forward for medical science. As nanotechnology becomes more mature, medical applications will enable increasingly greater understanding of and control over cellular biochemical processes ... such as those involved in aging.
Advocacy for medical research can be thought of as falling into two categories: 1) Encourage funding for the goals present day technology is already capable of achieving, and 2) encourage funding for new enabling technologies so that I can talk to you about category #1 again ten years from now. While nanomedicine based on molecular manufacturing is still firmly in category #1, groundwork in a variety of areas is proceeding, carried out by organizations like Zyvex, the Foresight Institute and the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology.
Currently, as I'm sure many of you are aware, Foresight's First Conference on Advanced Nanotechnology is underway. While most of the conference is focused on "dry" nanotechnology research (or research that is too early-stage to have clear medical applications), Robert Freitas was at hand to give a presentation on his work:
Current nanomedicine focuses on targeted nanoparticles and self-assembled nanostructures. In 10-20 years, the methods of massively-parallel molecular manufacturing will allow the construction of complex diamondoid medical nanorobots. These nanorobots will be used to maintain tissue oxygenation in the absence of respiration, repair and recondition the human vascular tree eliminating heart disease and stroke damage, and instantly staunch bleeding after traumatic injury. Other medical nanorobots will eliminate microbial infections and cancer, and even replace chromosomes in individual cells thus reversing the effects of genetic disease and other accumulated damage to our genes.
Medical applications of nanomedicine are a surprisingly low number six on Chris Phoenix's top ten list:
6) MEDICAL ETHICS AND RESEARCH: Massively parallel sensors. Cell-sized probes and surgical robots. "Actually cutting someone [for surgery] and making them bleed will soon look as primitive as, well, as bleeding them." Cheap supercomputers for very rapid medical R&D. (No more clinical trials?) Neural connections: "This is speculative, because we don't know how neurons work in detail." Genome manipulation. Physical "augmentation, for some of us, a source of much hope."
That doesn't sound as hopeful as the Chris Phoenix who penned Nanotechnology and Life Extension. You can be up to your neck in infrastructure and trade improvements, but it won't help you one bit if you're already dead due to age-related degeneration.