Interview With Robert A. Freitas Jr.
world leading nanomedicine scientist answering some questions
Robert A. Freitas Jr.
A. Freitas Jr., J.D., has degrees in physics, psychology, and law, and
has written nearly 100 technical papers, book chapters, or popular
articles on a diverse set of scientific, engineering, and legal topics.
He is is author of "Nanomedicine", the first book to comprehensively
address the technical issues involved in the medical applications of
molecular nanotechnology and medical nanodevice design.
may be defined as the monitoring, repair, construction and control of
human biological systems at the molecular level, using engineered
nanodevices and nanostructures.
is well-known in Russia and our site provides translation to russian
some Robert's science articles. So our visitors and members have some
nanomedicine-related questions to Mr. Freitas. Nanotechnology News
Network sincerely thanks to Robert A. Freitas Jr. to this
Dmitry Rijasanov transhumanist and site administrator (http://www.bessmertie.ru):
you show some examples of working projects of modern nanomedicine in
age curing problem? When, how do you think, first experiments in the
field of age curing will be done? Maybe this kind of experiments
R.F. - "The techniques of biotechnology,
including genomics and genetic engineering, might well be able to cure
many, even most, causes of aging over the next couple of decades.
However, nanorobotic medicine will almost certainly cure aging.
If my colleagues and I can induce sufficient resources (both human and
financial) to be directed toward the development of molecular
nanotechnology and molecular manufacturing, a nanomedical cure for
aging should be within reach in 20-30 years. Of course, if such
resources are not made available, it will take longer.
read what I wrote on this subject in the text immediately preceding and
following Slide 69 in my lecture “Death is an Outrage”, located online
Nickola, young scientist (fond of nanotechnology):
human control medical nanorobots (vasculoid appliance or other complex
medical nanorobotics) via brain? Can human control metabolism via mind
commands to nanorobotics applications in it body?"
- "There are many ways to inmessage (from external doctors or the
patient to nanorobots inside the body) and to outmessage (from internal
nanorobots directly to the patient or the doctor), as described at
great length in Section 7.4 of Nanomedicine, Vol. I, located online at:
of these methods do involve direct data links between nanorobots and
neurons in the brain, or other neural cells such as the optic nerve.
One of my favorite ideas is ocular outmessaging, wherein a nanorobot is
stationed in each retinal cell, allowing complete real-time control of
the human visual field (imagine the possibilities!); see online at: http://www.nanomedicine.com/NMI/220.127.116.11.htm.
should also be able to communicate directly with living cells,
including neural cells. They could insert new signals where none
previously existed; extinguish an existing signal that was passing
through; modify an existing signal to make it into a different signal;
or, most interestingly, use the existence of one signal to trigger
actions elsewhere in the body – in effect creating complex new
physiological reflexes or links that have never before existed in
nature. See online discussion at: http://www.nanomedicine.com/NMI/18.104.22.168.htm.
“mind commands” will be tricky, but some version of this is undoubtedly
possible See my general discussion of inmessaging to in vivo nanorobots
at http://www.nanomedicine.com/NMI/7.4.2.htm, and my more specific discussion of inmessaging (from patient to nanorobots) at http://www.nanomedicine.com/NMI/22.214.171.124.htm.
Once the nanorobots have received a valid command, they can
collectively take any action that is physically possible, and altering
metabolism is easily physically possible."
A. Olikevich, CEO of Nanotechnology News Network Ltd., Deputy Director
of IUSD Institute for Nanotechnologies, President of Youth Science
"What can Russian Youth do to get nanomedicine education?"
- "I’m not familiar enough with your schools and university system to
say for certain what is the best specific course of action for you.
general, if you are interested in the longer-term visionary goals of
molecular nanotechnology, including medical nanorobotics, the best
thing you can do is to learn as much as you can in a great variety of
fields – chemistry, physics, biochemistry, physical chemistry,
mechanical engineering, computational chemistry, biology, robotics,
medical sciences, and so forth. Nanorobotic medicine, when it begins to
arrive in 10-20 years, will be a very multidisciplinary field. You
should definitely have a specialty, so you have something immediately
useful to contribute as a trained specialist, but the broader your
knowledge the more valuable you will be to the team. Remember:
Nanorobots may consist of billions of atoms and may require a
tremendous collaborative design effort. Each nanorobot design may
require huge design teams of thousands of technical people, possibly
cooperating internationally, much as Boeing used many teams around the
world to help it design the 777 jet aircraft. A sophisticated future
nanorobot might have millions (or more) of working parts – it may be a
very complex machine indeed!"
Dmitry Leschev, member of the Center of Advanced Researches:
"After reading Nanomedicine Book vol. I, section 3.5 about molecular nanoreceptors I have question:
needed so high construction accuracy - 0,001 nm? If this receptor will
be so high-accurate, we can't bind large target molecule, which ligand
rotates and oscillating. And molecular models of oxygen molecule O2 and
nitrogen N2 presented in Nanomedicine as cylinders, but at the room
temperature they looks like spheres due to fast temperature rotation.
How we can separate them in this case?
And if molecular receptor
made with chemically bounded binding sites (like hemoglobin binding
site for oxygen), why need so high accuracy, when target molecule binds
chemically already? E.g. can we make chemical reception to small
molecules, large molecules can binging and twisting to shape to the
receptor due to Brownian motion - so why needed high accuracy in
R.F. - "You don’t usually
need such high construction accuracy – usually 0.01 nm is good enough
in the “product”, though often in manufacturing we need the tool that
makes the product to have higher accuracy than the product it
manufactures. Some molecular receptors might require this high
accuracy, to make very subtle distinctions between molecules that are
very similar. But most types of receptors, and target molecules, will
not require this precision. I put this discussion in the book primarily
to let the reader know that this kind of precision is, in principle,
available if and when needed.
Regarding O2 and N2, if there is
even a very slight difference in the mean diameter of their rotational
envelopes, then the rates at which they pass through a hole of
intermediate diameter will differ slightly, and this differential can
be used to separate them using diffusion cascade sortation (http://www.nanomedicine.com/NMI/3.2.4.htm) with many units connected in series, or by other similar means.
are correct about the hemoglobin binding site – if a molecule has a
strong covalent or electrostatic affinity for a binding site, then
shape-complementarity-based binding sites might be unnecessary in that
instance. As noted in NMI Section 3.5.1 (http://www.nanomedicine.com/NMI.3.5.1.htm),
there are a number of different forces that can be applied to a given
binding site design, in order to produce a desired ligand-receptor
specificity. As the designer, you will choose whichever one(s) are most
appropriate for the job at hand. For example, distinguishing two very
similar but chemically inert uncharged molecules might require a
binding site that primarily depends upon shape-complementarity (e.g.,
pure van der Waals) to very high geometric precision in order to
establish adequate discrimination – as exemplified in Table 3.6 at http://www.nanomedicine.com/NMI/3.5.5.htm."
Dmitry Rijasanov transhumanist and site administrator (http://www.bessmertie.ru):
heard about nanoparticles, which can improve brain cells and make their
lifecycle longer for 4 times. And, in another study we find that
buckyballs damage brain. What nanomedicine says? Can nanorobotic
devices in human body brings good results to one tissues and organs,
and destructive to another ?"
"Nanoparticles are not nanorobotic medicine. Nanoparticles are just
very small bits of dumb matter, which have perhaps been cleverly
functionalized with some particularly useful chemical group that
provides targeting to a specific organ of the body, or helps sneak the
particle through the cell wall, and so forth.
It is not
surprising that as we begin to employ new kinds of materials in the
medical field, we will discover heretofore unknown possibilities – and
problems. Right now, the biocompatibility research has just begun on
the particles most commonly employed in today’s nanomedicine – simple
particles such as dendrimers, quantum dots, and the like. (See http://www.nanomedicine.com/NMIIA/15.3.6.htm)
Some of these nanoparticles will turn out to be perfectly safe; others
will turn out to have dangers – the research is just now being done. I
recently published an entire book on this subject, though primarily
from the standpoint of medical nanorobotics, available online at http://www.nanomedicine.com/NMIIA.htm.
realize that nanoparticles are just the bare beginnings of the field of
nanomedicine. They are only the initial “baby steps”. As our ability to
build more complex structures to molecular precision continues to grow,
eventually we will be able to make robotic devices that include onboard
computers, sensors, pumps, power generators, subsystems to allow
communication with the outside world, and so forth. Devices of this
level of sophistication, which we may begin to see in 10-20 years, will
not be at all like the passive nanoparticles of today that are
producing such seemingly contradictory results. Rather, these more
advances machines will actively locomote to a specific site of action,
using a precise navigational system rather than mere diffusion. They
will collect local data and select their actions from a wide range of
possible actions, unlike today’s dumb nanoparticles or drug molecules
that can just do one thing. They will be able to report back to the
doctor or patient what they are doing, in real time, and report the
successful completion of the mission. Then they can locomote safely out
of the body, e.g., to be excreted through the kidney or liver. If the
desired mission is to bring good results to a specific organ, a
particular tissue, or even to an individual named cell – the nanorobots
will accomplish this with high reliability and essentially zero side
This is the ultimate goal of nanomedicine. It is why
the future of medicine is now so exciting. Most of us will live to
witness the greatest revolution in the quality and precision of health
care, ever seen in human history."
Svidinenko Yuriy, Analyst General of Nanotechnology News Network Ltd. (http://www.nanonewsnet.ru):
we reach simples nanomedical devices in next 10 years due to
construction of protoassemblers from complex protein machines ?"
- "I can’t rule this out, but I think it is unlikely. Assemblers (in
the molecular nanotechnology sense) work so well because they will be
positionally assembling very rigid materials such diamond or sapphire.
When you start talking about protein assemblers, you are talking about
something that is “soft and squishy”, and so you are going to get
something like a synthetic ribosome if you go that route – and this
will only get you the ability to build more soft and squishy stuff.
This can be an extremely useful ability from the medical standpoint,
since the human body is mostly made of soft and squishy stuff. But
you’ll have a hard time building nanocomputers and other objects
requiring high digital precision and requiring huge numbers of parts at
high number density, using such means.
If you want to go the
soft squishy route, a more promising approach is biorobotics. Here, you
start with a stripped-down “minimal organism” like a bacterial or yeast
chassis, with all but the minimally-essential 250-300 genes intact.
Then you add, into the stripped-down genome, new genes that do whatever
you want the cell to do – eat cholesterol, secrete missing insulin or
synthetic antibiotics, glow green, or whatever. Essentially, the idea
is to take over the machinery of a microbe and install new genetic
machinery, thus converting it into a living “biological robot.” There
are already several companies in the U.S. actively pursuing this very
goal – including one company headed by Craig Venter, the man who first
decoded the human genome in 2000. Getting to microbial biorobots
probably won’t take 10 years – we could see the first results of these
efforts in 5 years, and very possibly much sooner."
Alexander Kurinny, CIO of Nanotechnology News Network Ltd., site administrator MicroBot.ru (http://www.microbot.ru):
we can do as members of society to prevent using nanomedical devices in
destructive aims by international terrorists or world armies?"
R.F. - "Researchers
in this field are especially concerned about this problem, and some of
us have helped to formulate the Foresight Guidelines (http://www.foresight.org/guidelines/) which are a good start.
technology can be used for good or ill. In the near term,
development of this technology will be very expensive, requiring lots
of resources, time, money, trained people, computers, laboratories,
etc. These are resources which, fortunately, are not generally
available to terrorists, or to lawless rogue nations. So in the
early years, only the most advanced and responsible nations will have
the technology may progress to the point where the ability to do harm
is within the reach of terrorists. However, this will probably
take at least 20-30 years. During the intervening time, global
society and law-abiding nations will have plenty of time to devise
defenses against anticipated destructive acts. Just as we have
fire departments to put out fires (including fires maliciously launched
by arsonists), in the future we will develop nanotech-based defenses
that will be sufficient to deal with any anticipated nanotech-based
threats that might be maliciously launched by terrorists.
to address your specific question more explicitly: What can we do
as members of society to help out? Ultimately, each one of us
needs to work as hard as we can, individually, to help bring
prosperity, open knowledge, and long healthspan to everyone in the
world. In such a world, the motivations to engage in acts of
terrorism will be vastly reduced, and thus such acts may be expected to
be far fewer in number, more manageable and less disruptive to our
lives. In the end, this is the only enduring solution to our
situation as an intelligent tool-using species. We cannot
renounce the use of tools without renouncing that which makes us human."
Nanotechnology News Network sincerely thanks to Robert A. Freitas Jr. to this interview
Robert A. Freitas Jr.