On Friday, April 20, 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued tentative guidelines for food and cosmetic companies interested in using nanoparticles.
“This is an emerging, evolving technology and we’re trying to get ahead of the curb to ensure the ingredients and substances are safe.” — Dennis Keefe, director of FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety
The FDA is “an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products” (Source: FDA Press Release).
Nanoparticles are nanoscale materials generally less than 100 nanometers (a billionth of a meter) in diameter. To put the size in perspective, 100 nm is about 500 times smaller than the diameter of human hair. Something so small that they can’t be seen with a standard microscope.
But materials enhanced with nanoparticles can have physical, chemical, and biological properties that differ from those of their larger counterparts as the video below illustrates.
According to the FDA Press Release: “The submicroscopic particles are increasingly showing up in FDA-regulated products like sunscreens, skin lotions and glare-reducing eyeglass coatings. Some scientists believe the technology will one day be used in medicine, but the FDA’s announcement did not address that use.”
So are American consumers safe? The FDA does its best, but it’s limited in resources and scope. For example, it has less authority over cosmetics than food additives. Nanotechnology has been used in cosmetics since the 1990s. “Generally, the FDA does not review cosmetics before they launch, and companies are responsible for assuring the safety of their products” (Source: AP News: FDA proposes rules for nanotechnology in food). In addition, it’s limited testability. How do you test for a problem you never knew existed? How do you test for dangers that don’t show symptoms for ten or twenty years? What happens to the stuff when you’re done with it? What impact does it have on the environment? When it “decays,” what does it turn into?
I was a test engineer in the medical industry, and I was astonished by how sloppy some of the regulatory tests were handled.
In our rush for better products and profits, we may be endangering ourselves. Time for additional testing and thinking is worth the cost.
In my science fiction short story, Death Has no Shadow, a nanotechnology accident releases swarms of microscopic robots called forger nanites into the environment and a science intern finds that her lab is their target.
“One day, this might not only make it possible to communicate quantum information over very large distances, but might enable an entire quantum Internet.” Dr. Stephan Ritter, leader the experimental team from Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (MPQ).
That one day is likely years away, but for now there’s been a step forward towards a quantum internet. A team at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (MPQ) demonstrated the transfer of an atomic quantum state and the creation of entanglement between two identical nodes in separate laboratories.
This is a very basic prototype of a quantum network based on single atoms embedded in optical cavities. In layman’s terms, they were able to get one atom to exhibit the same quantum states as another. They did this by copying the data from the first atom to a photon (a light “particle”), transmitting that photon through a cable to the second atom in another room, and copying the data to the second atom. (There was something else going on here called entanglement, that is way cool and beyond the scope of this blog.)
Now the data is not somebody’s phone number or a text message. It copied the quantum state, which is used to determine a qubit. What is that?
“A qubit (quantum bit) is a representation of a particle state, such as the spin direction of an electron or the polarization orientation of a photon. A qubit is the quantum equivalent of a bit in ordinary computing.
But where a bit exists in one of two states (1 or 0), a qubit can exist in an arbitrary combination of both states. Physicists describe this as a coherent superposition of two states. This superposition is often represented by a point on a sphere with values 0 and 1 at the sphere poles.”
~ Misha Brodsky, Photon Entanglement over the Fiber-Optic Network, AT&T Labs Research, January 10, 2011.
Disclaimer: Don’t expect HP, Dell, Apple, or any other computer manufacturer to replace this year’s models with quantum computers. Besides being in early development, quantum computations are not a wholesale replacement of today’s technology. Some very basic quantum computers have been developed and they do a few things better — a whole lot better — than the average computer: code-breaking, integer factorization, and simulation of quantum mechanics that would be used in chemistry and nanotechnology.
My guess is that, if these laboratory breakthroughs can be duplicated and scaled up in manufacturing, we may see quantum coprocessors integrated into standard computers or mobile devices. That way, they would handle the specific tasks for which they are best suited.
See the Avar-Tek Event short story Death Has No Shadow for a quantum computer named Prometheus.
All that glitters is not gold. Sometimes it is cancer.
How about gold-plated cancer?
We can do that now, or more technically: gold nanoparticles infused with an antibody called cetuximab attach to growth factors (EGFR) expressed on the surface of some cancer cells. In other words, bind just the right antibodies to gold nanoparticles, inject them into tissue, and cancer cells will be covered with gold.
Ok, you get gold to stick to cancer cells like socks stick to a sweater pulled from a dryer. What a waste of money, right?
Well, no. First, although they’re not cheep, don’t go rushing to the gold exchange with jar filled with nano-gold-slush. You won’t get much for it there. The gold nanoparticles are spheres of gold less than 100 nanometers (nm) in diameter. To put the size in perspective, 100 nm is about 500 times smaller than the diameter of human hair.
Second, according to a paper released by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, you can zap the gold-targeted cancer cells with shortwave radiofrequency (RF) energy. “Exposure of cells to a noninvasive RF field produced nearly 100% cytotoxicity in cells treated with the cetuximab-conjugated gold nanoparticles, but significantly lower levels of cytotoxicity in the two control groups (P < 0.00012).” In other words, the cancer cells died, and the normal cells lived.
Shortwave RF penetrates deeply into the body with no adverse side effects, as long as you’re not entirely made of gold. Like putting a fork in the microwave oven, it kills the cancer cells by heating them up. Now in this study, it only worked with two types of cancer cells: ones for pancreatic and colorectal cancer (Panc-1 or Difi cells), but similar methods may be available for different cancers. In another study (How could gold save my life?), it was shown that the same method might also be used to detect breast cancer.
Thanks guys. Great work!
Video courtesy Kathryn Dean via YouTube.
See the soon-to-be-published science fiction novel Recruiting Angles for bio-nanotechnolgy in action.
How do you get a nano-robot to target and kill just cancer cells but leave healthy cells alone?
Think like a suicide bomber:
- Carry a concealed mass killing weapon like a bomb,
- Act and look like you belong,
- Get into the enemy’s site, and
- Blow it up.
Nanotechnology for medicine does not necessarily mean robotic machinery. On the nanometer scale, the mechanism is more like a virus and can better be characterized by bio-chemistry. A nano-scaled robot uses molecular keys (cell targeting ligands) and special polymers (diblock copolymers) instead of gears and cogs.
This video explains it best:
So what are the healing stones? They are theoretical first-aid nano-bot factories and delivery systems. See other “Healing Stone” articles for more information.
Of all the future technological breakthroughs noted on this site, I hope this one comes first.
See Recruiting Angles for nano-medicine in action.
Image and video from Frank Gu Research Group, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
I just got back from the doctor for a cybernetic implant tune-up. She got on my case for going beyond the six month recommended tune-up cycle. I also haven’t been taking the prescribed minerals the nano-factories need to spit out the little doctors.
What? You haven’t heard about little doctors? (Yes, this is fictional.) How about nanites? No? What century are you living in, the 21st? OK, I’ll explain. Here in the 23rd Century, little doctors or bio-nano-robots are microscopic biomechanical engines — some as small as a large molecule — injected into your bloodstream either by needle, by healing stones, or more commonly by cybernetic implants. The implants create the little doctors on an as-needed basis.
I’ll expand on this more in future posts, but in summary, they extend your natural healing systems, reinforce bone and muscular structures, and help fight against aging. Here’s an old but good vid about the early uses of nanotechnology and bio-nano-robots:
Oh, by the way. If you do get the implants, be sure to keep your virus protection up to date. The implants makes potential computer viruses more deadly than some biological viruses.
See Recruiting Angles for healing stones in action.
See Death Has No Shadow for for nanites gone wild.
Image from Metallurgy for Dummies.