I confess, I don’t get it. Why are people so easily confused by today’s nanoparticles and discussions of futuristic nanorobots?
This confusion reared its ugly head recently in an article discussing nanotechnology in cancer treatments. There is probably no more somber a topic than cancer. If you have not been directly affected by it, chances are you know someone who has. It’s a serious subject.
So the combining of misapprehensions regarding nanorobots and cancer is a harrowing read as I recently discovered in article infuriatingly entitled: “Nanorobots: Novel Technology for Cancer Therapy.”
The basis for much of the mish-mosh found in this blog post seems to be an article that can be found in the IEEE Transactions on Nanotechnology, dating back to June 2003.
What seems to have escaped the author’s attention is the first sentence of the abstract: "The author presents a new approach WITHIN ADVANCED GRAPHICS SIMULATIONS for the problem of nanoassembly automation and its application for medicine." (Emphasis is mine.) In other words, Cavalcanti was discussing computer-simulated models of nanorobots.
Then the article brings up the use of quantum dots for targeting cancer cells without the slightest hint of a transition after discussing the same capability in nanorobots. But there’s one big difference between the two approaches: one actually exists and the other is only imagined.What’s perplexing about this blog post is that it presents itself as such a scholarly work—with footnotes and everything—and yet manages to miss the obvious distinction between science fiction and science fact. It’s peppered with enough “coulds” and “woulds” to lend it some plausible deniability. But the overall effect is to give one the impression that nanorobots are a cancer treatment. Nanotechnology’s role in cancer treatment today is really encouraging in detection, targeting, and drug delivery. Isn’t it possible to discuss these breakthroughs in a pseudo-scholarly way and then take the same pseudo approach to discussing the Freitas wing of nanomedicine separately if you’re so enamored with the idea?
I suppose I wouldn’t continue to stamp my feet about this confusion except for the fact that letting it continue has already proven to have dire consequences.
Illustration: Guillermo Lobo/iStockphoto
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.