Medicine, nanoelectronics, social implications, and figuring it all out

Given today’s (Aug. 27, 2012) earlier posting about nanoelectronics and tissue engineering, I though it was finally time to feature Michael Berger’s Aug. 16, 2012 Nanowerk Spotlight essay, The future of nanotechnology electronics in medicine, which discusses the integration of electronics into the human body.

First, Berger offers a summary of some of the latest research (Note: I have removed  links),

In previous Nanowerk Spotlights we have already covered numerous research advances in this area: The development of a nanobioelectronic system that triggers enzyme activity and, in a similar vein, the electrically triggered drug release from smart nanomembranes; an artificial retina for color vision; nanomaterial-based breathalyzers as diagnostic tools; nanogenerators to power self-sustained biosystems and implants; future bio-nanotechnology might even use computer chips inside living cells.

A lot of nanotechnology work is going on in the area of brain research. For instance the use of a carbon nanotube rope to electrically stimlate neural stem cells; nanotechnology to repair the brain and other advances in fabricating nanomaterial-neural interfaces for signal generation.

International cooperation in this field has also picked up. Just recently, scientists have formed a global alliance for nanobioelectronics to rapidly find solutions for neurological disorders; the EuroNanoBio project is a Support Action funded under the 7th Framework Programme of the European Union; and ENIAC, the European Technology Platform on nanoelectronics, has decided to make the development of medical applications one of its main objectives.

Berger cites a recent article in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Nano (journal) by scientists in today’s earlier posting about tissue scaffolding and 3-D electrnonics,

In a new perspective article in the July 31, 2012, online edition of ACS Nano (“The Smartest Materials: The Future of Nanoelectronics in Medicine” [behind a paywall]), Tzahi Cohen-Karni (a researcher in Kohane’s lab), Robert Langer, and Daniel S. Kohane provide an overview of nanoelectronics’ potential in the biomedical sciences.

They write that, as with many other areas of scientific endeavor in recent decades, continued progress will require the convergence of multiple disciplines, including chemistry, biology, electrical engineering, computer science, optics, material science, drug delivery, and numerous medical disciplines. ”

Advances in this research could lead to extremely sophisticated smart materials with multifunctional capabilities that are built in – literally hard-wired. The impact of this research could cover the spectrum of biomedical possibilities from diagnostic studies to the creation of cyborgs.”

Berger finishes with this thought,

Ultimately, and here we are getting almost into science fiction territory, nanostructures could not only incorporate sensing and stimulating capabilities but also potentially introduce computational capabilities and energy-generating elements. “In this way, one could fabricate a truly independent system that senses and analyzes signals, initiates interventions, and is self-sustained. Future developments in this direction could, for example, lead to a synthetic nanoelectronic autonomic nervous system.”

This Nanowerk Spotlight essay provides a good overview of nanoelectronics  research in medicine and lots of  links to previous related essays and other related materials.

I am intrigued that there is no mention of the social implications for this research and I find social science or humanities research on social social implications of emerging technology rarely discusses the technical aspects revealing what seems to be an insurmountable gulf. I suppose that’s why we need writers, artists, musicians, dancers, pop culture, and the like to create experiences, installations, and narratives that help us examine the technologies and their social implications, up close.

One thought on “Medicine, nanoelectronics, social implications, and figuring it all out

  1. Pingback: Gluing blood vessels with mussel goo « FrogHeart

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