The latest thing is the possibility of microscopic swimming agents that could provide suitable medicinal doses to patients.
An experiment at the University of Sheffield has come up with a remarkable method of delivering drugs inside the bodies of patients. Small spherical devices are sent via physical channels as they seem to virtually swim in a liquid medium.
This scheme has opened the way to future means of drug administration that are very radical in their technological impact. Not only may bodily channels and organs be used to deliver micro-managed drug doses but environmental cleanup acts may be accomplished by employing cracks in rocks.
The gadgets are actually very much like cells and bacteria. They are a hundred times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. They can send drugs into the biological systems of human beings or even function outside the body to test blood samples.
The search for proteins that indicate an approaching heart attack or detecting tumors that are a warning sign of cancer are just two uses. Such devices work on the level of the microscopic world where the laws are different from our macrolevel universe.
The production of movement was quite a challenge. But the scientists persisted and so the impossible became possible. It was almost like an infinitesimal particle trying to make its way through thick syrup.
At first, outer magnetic fields were utilized to guide the particles but this approach proved to be a dead end. Novel methodologies such as a catalytic coating on one side of each particle was then tried on for size.
The trick was to allow the natural terrain to allow movement to take place efficiently and easily. This strategy worked just brilliantly. Yet controlling the direction of the particles remained a persistent problem.
The friction of the various molecules seemed to be the main hindrance. The use of these microscopic devices in the human body is the next frontier in the healing arts. Medical prognosis is the most immediate practical application of this rubric in the biological sciences.
Further future uses may include clearing up environmental pollution, absorbing oil spills and slipping into the cracks between rocks to do the job of milieu management. The biotechnology is still in its nascent stages so nothing can be said as of now.
Yet with the passage of time, more discoveries and inventions will accumulate and lead to the advancement of the knowledge base. This will help institutionalize the practice of using microlevel agents to deliver doses of medicine in the human body.
Dr Stephen Ebbens, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Sheffield, said: "When you're dealing with objects on such a small scale, we found that although our method of moving the devices using a coating and chemical reaction worked very effectively, it was difficult to control its direction, due to other molecules in the fluid jostling it.
"We've been working on ways to overcome this and control the movement of the devices along a path using physical structures to direct them.
"We are now working on applications for using these devices in the body, in the shorter term focusing on using them for medical diagnosis"
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This research was a collaborative project led by Dr Stephen Ebbens with Dr Jon Howse and Dr Andrew Campbell from the University of Sheffield; Professor Ramin Golestanian, University of Oxford; Professor Ayusman Sen, Professor Darrell Velegol, Sambeeta Das and Astha Garg, Penn State University.