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Scientist: Tiny robots can find and kill diseases

5:55 AM, Oct 25, 2013   |    comments
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Microscopic robots may soon be detecting and even preventing diseases instantly at doctors' offices across the nation, eliminating the need for multiple tests or treatment plans.

It may sound like science fiction, but one of the nation's top nanotechnology scientists said it could be only four or five years away.

"I think it's coming pretty soon," said Dr. Shree Singh, the director of the Center for NanoBiotechnology Research at Alabama State University. "In the near future, you will have some small nanomachines that will basically cure the disease before it even happens. Basically any kind of disease diagnosis or prevention can be done through nanobiotechnology."

Singh spoke during a recent summit for state and national scientists in Montgomery, where they shared new ideas and innovations in the field.

His group at ASU has worked on viral and antibacterial research.

"Lots of diseases happen because of bacterial or viral infection," Singh said. "There would be new nanomaterials which could target a specific bacterial virus. The virus may be in your body, and (nanotechnology) can target it before you even get sick."

Breakthroughs could also streamline tests and diagnoses, he said, making it possible to test for "almost all possible diseases" using a single sample, and returning results in about 10 minutes.

Treatment would be more targeted with fewer side effects, as well. For instance, he said nanotechnology could kill only cancerous cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed.

Singh's department got a $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health earlier this year to expand its work and train more students. But while the work being done at ASU is important, Singh said it was crucial to bring together scientists from different areas and collaborate.

That led to the first NanoBio Summit this week at the Renaissance Hotel, where more than 250 leading researchers gathered to exchange ideas and present their work.

Presenters came from as far away as Northwestern University and the University of North Texas discussing a range of ways their work could advance modern medicine.

But Singh said that's just the tip of the iceberg.

"Lots of nanotechnology research is being done at universities and throughout the country," he said. "That's where most of the innovations will happen in the next 50 to 100 years.

"It's already happening with computers. They are getting smaller because of the nanotechnology. It's going to touch many areas - energy, cars. This will be the future of the world."

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Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com