A Dated But Worthwhile Look at Nanomedicine

You'll find the text of the 1991 publication of "Unbounding the Future: the Nanotechnology Revolution" at the Foresight Institute. Dated it may be, but the overview of nanomedicine in chapter 10 is well worth reading - a solid look at what is possible, within the known limits of physics and the knowledge of 15 years ago:

Deadly diseases may be easily dealt with, while minor ills remain incurable, or vice versa. As we will see, a mature nanotechnology-based medicine will be able to deal with almost any physical problem, but the order of difficulty may be surprising. Nature cares nothing for our sense of appropriateness. Horribleness and difficulty just aren't the same thing.

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Where does aging fit in the spectrum of difficulty? The deterioration that comes with aging is increasingly recognized as a form of disease, one that weakens the body and makes it susceptible to a host of other diseases. Aging, in this view, is as natural as smallpox and bubonic plague, and more surely fatal. Unlike bubonic plague, however, aging results from internal malfunctions in the molecular machinery of the body, and a medical condition with so many different symptoms could be complex.

Surprisingly, substantial progress is being made with present techniques, without even a rudimentary ability to perform cell surgery in a medical context. Some researchers believe that aging is primarily the result of a fairly small number of regulatory processes, and many of these have already been shown to be alterable. If so, aging may be tackled successfully before even simple cell repair is available. But the human aging process is not well enough understood to enable a confident projection of this; for example, the number of regulatory processes is not yet known. A thorough solution may well require advanced nanotechnology-based medicine, but a thorough solution seems possible. The result would not be immortality, just much longer, healthier lives for those who want them.

Fifteen years later, those involved in the development of advanced nanomedicine - such as medical nanorobots - are much more confident of future capabilities.

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