Japan takes lead in medical nanorobots

It’s very early days as yet, but Japan is moving forward toward the goal of molecular-level machinery to control nanotechnology-based robotic devices for medicine. In the U.S. and Europe, the poorly-informed sometimes ridicule the prospect of such nanotech robots, but visionary goals are apparently okay in Japan. See the report and video at MSNBC from Alan Boyle:

For years, nanotechnology has held out the hope of molecular-scale contraptions that can manufacture custom-made drugs or revolutionize the way computer chips work.

Now researchers in Japan say they have taken a big step toward that nano goal by creating the first molecular machine that can do parallel processing…”We can use [the central molecule] like a space station to talk to spacecraft – or if you have seen the movie ‘Fantastic Voyage,’ it is similar to that,” Anirban Bandyopadhyay of Japan’s International Center for Young Scientists told me over the weekend. Bandyopadhyay and a colleague at the center, Somobrata Acharya, are the researchers behind the study unveiled today…

But wait … there’s more: If scientists can create assembles that can pass along instructions from one molecule to 16, then to 256, then to 4,096, and so on – pretty soon you could have nanofactories capable of churning out mega amounts of custom-designed molecules. That could open the way for medical therapies that have long been the subject of dreams (and nightmares).

Indeed. We’ve been pointing this out here at Foresight for a while now, through our conferences, prizes, etc. (Thanks to MSNBC for the link to our site.)

In the Telegraph (UK), Roger Highfield reports:

Molecular computer could be ‘nanobot brain’

A molecular machine has been devised as the potential brain of “nanobots” now under study for uses in medicine.

The device can handle 16 times more instructions at a time than conventional computer chips.

“This project is part of a massive brain building project, and this is first success towards this end,” says Dr Anirban Bandyopadhyay, National Institute of Material Science, Tsukuba, Japan.

The discovery could provide a way to control many molecular machines simultaneously, increase computer processing power, and perhaps keep Moore’s Law alive – the doubling in number crunching power every two years that some feared was running up against problems in squeezing ever more components in ever smaller areas.

With Somobrata Acharya, Dr Bandyopadhyay describes in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences how they developed a processor made up of 17 molecules of the chemical duroquinone, which has four side chains that can be independently rotated to represent four logic states: 0, 1, 2, and 3…

Dr Bandyopadhyay said the molecular machine is built to function as a control unit for medical nanobots. “In future, there will be no medical surgery to destroy tumours, or revive structure of damaged brain, and so on.

“Doctors will inject molecular machines attached to similar control unit, the assembly will go to the target part inside our body through veins, and carry out bloodless surgery. Till now several molecular machines have been built, prior to this work, but there were no machine that could control them.”

Bring it on! As Glenn would say. Regardless of the success of this particular project, the freedom of these researchers to state ambitious goals bodes well for Japanese nanotech. It may be time to get started on those Japanese language lessons we’ve been putting off… —Christine

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