“Many, many rules had begun to bend at the hand of nanotechnology, gene therapy, robotics, artificial intelligence. This produced a lot of good, and a lot of bad. This trade-off has always plagued us. When you make waves, you produce peaks and troughs.”
By Matt Spire.
Nanotechnology is known as the great promise of the future that would revolutionize the world. However, year after year the forecasts still are not materialized. Nowadays, we begin to see results, as some of the promises of scientists begin to come true. These are 10 advances that could be commercialized very soon.
Advances in nanotechnology, nanoscience, nanomedicine
Contact lenses with virtual and augmented reality
Soon it will no longer be necessary to use those uncomfortable devices that are placed on the head to enjoy virtual reality or augmented reality. Thanks to nanotechnology, it will be enough to put some contact lenses. It is being developed by Innovega, a US company based in Bellevue, Washington. For this, they have incorporated, to a contact lens, a polarizing filter and a tiny lens that acts as a screen for the visualization of virtual or augmented reality images.
These elements are smaller than the pupil of the eye, so they do not interfere with the normal vision of the person. In this way, the retina receives the images of virtual or augmented reality together with those of the external world and the user perceives them as one.
Combined with the company’s panoramic sunglasses, known as iOptik, the user can enjoy a complete 3D immersion experience with HD quality, ideal for augmented reality video games, simulation environments, etc.
Heart attack detector
The use of nanosensors to detect heart attacks before they happen could save many lives. Two researchers -Eric Topol, of Scripps Health, and Axel Scherer, of Caltech- have been working on this technology, which consists of tiny chips with nanosensors for the bloodstream, capable of detecting the symptoms prior to a heart attack. The latest versions of the chip barely measure 90 micrometers, that is, less than a grain of sand; and they would be injected into the patient’s arm.
With this system, a person with a chip could receive a warning on their smartphone or other mobile device, telling them to go immediately to a medical center.
At the moment, they are being used for glucose detection in animal studies. Once completed, human studies will begin. In the future it could also be used to detect autoimmune diseases, various types of cancer and even rejections in patients with transplants.
In October 2015, Scripps Health received a $ 3.75 million donation from the Qualcomm Foundation to advance a number of promising technologies, including this one.
New black silicon material to fight bacteria
In nature you can find all kinds of antibiotic surfaces. In recent years, some scientists have studied them to try to develop artificial versions inspired by them. An example is the new synthetic nanomaterial developed by Australian and Spanish scientists from black silicon, adding small peaks on its surface.
Black silicon nanomaterial
The surface geometry of the material is inspired by that of the wings of the dragonfly Diplacodes bipunctata, common in Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand, and whose small peaks inhibit the development of bacteria. According to scientists, in laboratory tests, the material has been shown to be effective against a wide variety of gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria, as well as against endospores.
Tiny batteries made with 3D printing
Researchers at Harvard University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered how to make, with 3D printing, miniature batteries about 1 mm in diameter, using materials that are electrochemically active and have been called “inks” “
By hardening these materials in layers, in the style of 3D printing, they have created anodes and cathodes. To do this, the printer deposits the ink on the teeth of two gold combs to create a tightly interlaced stack of anodes and cathodes.
Finally, the entire configuration is packaged in a small container and filled with an electrolyte solution to complete the battery. The researchers claim that they have already created small medical devices, such as drug delivery devices and biosensors.
In any case, there is no doubt that these tiny batteries could change the rules of the game not only in the field of medical devices, but also for the multiple sensors and devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT).
Micro-robot for eye surgeries and drug administration
Scientists from the Robotics Laboratory of ETH Zürich, Switzerland, have developed a tiny microrobot that can be guided magnetically. The microrobot, known as OctoMag, is introduced into the eye with a small needle and is directed, using electromagnetic fields, to perform precision surgery or release very precise amounts of drugs, without the need for any incisions. One of its possible uses would be to dissolve clots in the eye vessels.
Recently, the American company Replenish, based in Pasadena, California, has developed a micropump that, placed behind the eye, releases a drug when necessary.
To this end, the company’s researchers have managed to combine a sensor and a drug delivery pump with wireless technology in a single ultradiminuto device. The device has already been successfully tested in humans.
Flexible processors capable of wrapping a thin strand of hair
Once again, scientists from ETH Zürich in Switzerland have developed electronic processors based on nanotechnology that are so flexible that they can be wrapped around a strand of hair.
To do this, they created thin layers of polyvinyl and stacked them by placing an electronic circuit on top. When the assembly is immersed in water, two of the polyvinyl layers dissolve, leaving the circuit embedded in a parylene sheet one micrometer thick. The researchers found that the processor’s transistors continued to work after wrapping it around a human hair.
What’s great about the news is that these flexible electronic devices can be attached to a wide range of materials, so they could be used in smart clothes, wearable devices (wearables) that have been so successful in recent years, and even , in a whole range of medical applications.
Biodegradable electrodes for batteries
The marine sepia could soon be the best source of material for the creation of electrodes for batteries intended to power ingestible medical devices. And it is that two researchers of the Carnegie Mellon University, Chris Bettinger and Jay Whitacre, have discovered that the ink of sepia provides exactly the chemistry and nanostructure correct to feed of energy to this type of devices.
However, it is not the only example. Recently, a company called Proteus Digital Health, based in Redwood, California, has developed a pill that incorporates a power supply, a sensor and a transmitter, so that when the patient swallows the pill, stomach acid activates the battery and start a signal. This confirms that the patient has actually taken the medication.
Targeted treatments for cancer
Currently, the main treatment for cancer is chemotherapy, but due to its high toxicity and the current administration methods, with which it is necessary to administer large amounts of chemo so that only a part actually reaches the affected area, the side effects of the treatment are devastating.
Researchers have been looking for a less toxic solution for years and in which the drugs can be released directly into the affected area.
Over the years, several options have emerged based on nanotechnologies, some of them with amazing results, but until recently, most of the nanoparticles used were not innocuous either or the investigations did not contemplate how to eliminate them from the body once the treatment was released.
Silver nanoparticles to eliminate germs
The antibacterial and disinfectant capacity of silver is widely known and the nanometric particles of this material have proven to be extremely effective on more than one occasion. What has not been investigated as much is whether these silver nanoparticles can also carry health risks.
Regardless of this, silver nanoparticles are being used more and more in everything from garments or toothbrushes that do not accumulate germs to filters to purify water.
One of the latest examples is the book by the researcher Theresa Dankovich, whose pages, in addition to transmitting knowledge about water treatment, serve as filters to transform contaminated water into drinking water.
Diabetic breath test
In 2013, researchers at the University of Western New England created a prototype of a device capable of detecting acetone levels in the breath. The prototype was about the size of a book.
The discovery aroused great interest given that the levels of acetone in the breath are related to blood glucose levels, so that a device of these characteristics could be used to measure the sugar levels of diabetics quickly, without needing to be punctured. finger to draw blood and without the continuous expense of disposable strips.
Over the last few years, several companies and research groups have worked in this field to try to develop increasingly smaller, more affordable and more accurate devices that can be marketed.
An example is the breath-testing spectrometer developed by researchers at the Dresden University of Technology and the Fraunhofer Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, so small that it can fit on a mobile phone.
There are already some devices on the market that allow the analysis of acetone levels in the breath, although for the moment they are mainly aimed at athletes and people who do slimming diets.
Now, the company Oxford Medical Diagnostics (OMD) is testing a new device capable of measuring acetone in breath samples at subparts per million levels, which far exceeds the accuracy needed for patients with type 1 diabetes. It would also serve to know the amount of insulin the patient needs. The company will begin trials with people this year in the United Kingdom.
This type of rapid, inexpensive and non-invasive breath tests seems to be the future not only in the case of diabetes, but also for the detection of other diseases, such as some types of cancers, Parkinson’s or the bacterium Helicobacter Pylori.