By Frank Amthor

Nanotechnology is the assembling of devices with molecular components to achieve nanoscale structures. Current conceptions are for nanoscale devices to be autonomous, with the ability to sense, move, obtain, or store energy, and to accomplish some programmed function. A common name used for the (currently conceptual) devices is nanobots.

Many schemes have been proposed by which nanobots would be injected into the body, travel to some locus of disease, and treat the disease. Treatments might include releasing drugs, killing cancer cells, or repairing blood vessels. All of this is very speculative right now, based on the current ability to make things like molecular-sized gears, and a few other components.

Nevertheless, should nanobots become capable of some of the functions mentioned earlier, they would also have a serious impact on neuroscience. For example, nanobots could repair damaged axon tracts and reverse paralysis by some combination of mechanically creating a pathway and laying down cell adhesion or affinity molecules.

Scavenger nanobots could conceivably remove neurofibrillary tangles and plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease. By interacting with functioning neurons directly, they could also comprise the interface between inserted electronic processing chips and brain activity. These potential nanobot functions are, however, by far the most speculative ideas in this chapter and are all likely much more than one decade away.