As some of you may observe, I’ve always been more of a physicist than a physician. One thing I’ve noticed is that cutting edge physics very quickly becomes cutting edge medicine. Just look at MRI, phytotron emission, tomography, ultrasound, and so on.
Another thing to notice is that the things I mentioned are primarily imaging techniques. What happens if we actually need to do something inside the body? Then, barring a few more exotic approaches, we’re left with trying drugs or physically cutting open the patient.
My research is focused around technologies that could, in the long term, create a third option. By studying and exploiting the behavior of surfaces between fluids, such as the surface at the top of a glass of water, it may be possible to create micrometer-scale motors, generators that extract energy from a fluid flow, such as the flow of blood through a vessel, and miniature chemical analysis systems, such as those found in recently developed lab-on-a-chip devices.
Furthermore, it may even be possible to integrate all of these systems, along with complex control circuitry, on a single tiny chip using manufacturing techniques very similar to those already in use by the semiconductor industry. Add some passive radiofrequency communications and some very sophisticated equipment on the outside, and it should be possible to effectively print thousands of independently controllable, mostly autonomous, millimeter-sized robots.
These could then be introduced into the body in a variety of ways and used to monitor chemical indicators, conduct and analyze site-specific biopsies, potentially even deliver drugs or kill cells based on specific chemical markers.
Of course, at this stage, it’s still very hard for me to gauge the practicality nor the potential of this approach. I’d be very interested in hearing what you, who probably have a much greater knowledge of medicine than I can ever claim, might think about this.
That’s all from me for now. I really look forward to talking with many of you in February. See you all in Washington.