The Future of Nanobiology

These blog things are cropping up in the strangest of places, such as the middle of a Ziff-Davis online media property. Here we have an interesting post from the Future in Review conference:

During a panel on the future of nano-biotechnology, Alan Russell, head of regenerative medicine at the University of Pittsburg, described progress in moving from treating symptoms to generating cures and regenerating tissues as a result of the convergence of nanotechnology and biology. "Every tissue from head to toe is being regenerated somewhere across the planet," Russell said. Corneal epithelium are being grown in dishes at one temperature and then cooled and peeled off and placed on an eye. Three patients in the U.S. have received whole cultured bladders grown using nano-biology techniques. A uterus can be grown outside the body in animal tests, placed inside the body and subsequently produce babies. He predicted that within the next five years, spinal cord injuries will be treated with stem cells and some of the paralyzing effects reversed. In South America, stem cell therapy is used to eliminate disease in failing hearts. U.S. trails are starting next week, Russell said. The Department of Defense has allocated $20 million to study whole limb generation. "If a newt can do it, why not we," Russell said. However, limb regeneration is more than five years out.

"Nanotechnology" in this business-oriented context should be taken to mean nanoscale engineering rather than more futuristic visions (such as molecular manufacturing). The first wave of nanotechnology is an straightforward advance in materials science and the ability to reliably manipulate ever smaller objects - such as cells and their subcomponents. The above quote is very enthusiastic on the topic of regenerative medicine, but is not too much of an exaggeration - a great deal of very interesting work is currently taking place at the cutting edge of medical research. We'll have to wait a decade to see what crystallizes out of the mix in terms of therapies and widespread uses, but it all looks very promising from where I stand.

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