Almost 50 years ago, a movie by the name of “Fantastic Voyage” was released. This movie was unquestionably one of the top all-time movies in science fiction. The visual effects were actually quite astonishing considering that nothing of today’s technology was available to create the necessary graphics. The story line is as follows: a team of scientists are shrunken down to a size where they can be injected into an injured patient, with the intent of repairing an injury that is otherwise inoperable. One can already imagine all of the adventure that lies before the team. I am actually surprised that this movie has not had a major remake in the last decade. If done well, this is a story that can be retold many times.
As seems to be almost a daily occurrence of late, what was one science fiction is now becoming reality. Admittedly, we are still not able to shrink people down along the lines of the movie “Honey, I shrunk the kids”. But medical science has an alternative.
In the following article, there is a description of recent animal trials that demonstrate how microscopic stealth drones could be used to seek out and repair damaged arteries and prevent heart attacks and strokes.
To quote (my additions appear in brackets):
” The nanoparticles [which are biodegradable] are designed to latch on to hard plaques in the arteries, made from fat cholesterol and calcium, which cause heart [and other vessel] disease [like stroke, renal damage and visual impairment].
Once they reach their target, the [nanoparticle] drones release a drug derived from a natural protein that repairs inflammation[-related] damage in the body.
Each of the tiny particles, made from a plastic-like material, is 1,000 times smaller than the tip of a human hair.”
The next step in the study of these nanoparticles is to run human trials. If the results in humans match, or perhaps even surpass, the outcomes in rats, then we are facing yet another revolution in modern healthcare.
The kind of vessel disease that leads to heart attacks, strokes and many other diseases, is responsible for a huge strain on health care services. These days, doctors are capable of identifying vessel disease before it causes major damage, and treating vessel disease in order to limit the damage it causes. But many patients are still only identified late in the process of their disease. And doctors still are not able to fundamentally reverse the damage.
Medical treatments that are available today have made a big difference. 30 years ago, there was little to offer many patients with heart attacks, except to stabilize them and watch that they did not develop severe heart rhythm abnormalities. Today, if caught early enough, a heart attack can be prevented by using angiography [a fiber-optic thin flexible tube that is snaked into the heart vessels to open blockages].
As effective as angiography is, it is still a technically difficult procedure, is not always successful, has its own complications and is understandably quite expensive. Also, it is very hard to set up angiography services in sufficient locations so that everyone in a given country is close enough to them, to benefit from their utility.
If the nanotechnology, described in the article linked to above, is able to reverse vessel damage across the entire human body, modern medicine could soon see a huge drop in morbidity and mortality across the general population. Certain diseases would simply vanish, if this technology is as successful as hoped. Imagine living in a world where people simply did not have heart attacks or strokes. I find it difficult to imagine, and I am a physician. But it very well could be that this specific technology will effectively put an end to entire departments in major hospitals. This is a very good thing, as it means that medical resources, which are already drastically stretched, will be able to be refocused on all other types of diseases.
Some people will most likely be frightened by the concept of having these “little robots” floating around in their bloodstream. I truly hope that people take the time to understand how safe and effective this new approach is, so that they will overcome any anxiety about it. This type of nanotechnology will not allow some scientist to take over anyone’s mind or become a ticking time bomb. Sometimes new technologies are simply a “win” without any significant downside.
In my last blog post, I spoke about how 10 years is a full generation in technology. It might very well be that in 10 years from now, medical students will be taught about vessel disease but will be immediately told that it has been completely overcome. It might very well be that, just as I was taught about measles but never saw a case until so many people stopped vaccinating their children, so it will be with heart disease and stroke. It could be that the doctors graduating in 2025 will rarely see these vessel-related diseases during their careers.
Once again, I find myself repeating my mantra that we live in magical times. Thanks for listening