Here’s a slide that anyone who has seen one of my presentations recently will be familiar with – illustrating the shift we are undergoing from using things that we find to producing the things that we need, something beautifully illustrated by the recent slough of news items about the ‘invention” of artificial arteries using nanotechnology.
Professor George Hamilton from the Royal Free Hospital in North-West London said, “The new graft pulses rhythmically to match the beat of the heart. The graft material is strong, flexible, resistant to blood clotting and doesn’t break down, which is a major breakthrough.”
The real breakthrough of course, is that we have been able to create something that works as well as the material that nature has been using for arteries!
Ten years ago nanotechnology was thought to be a technology that would enable us to cure all kinds of disease by creating tiny robots, or replacing natures creations with our own. In fact a great deal of time and effort went into producing large tomes fantasising about how we could replace our nervous and circulatory systems with various things that may be one day created if the laws of physics and chemistry could somehow be bent in a way that would allow them (as well as warp speed travel, teleportation, holodecks etc – you get the idea).
Fortunately the rest of the scientific community was focused on more practical issues, and the most exciting thing about nanotechnology is it’s ability to give us the precise control over the properties of materials that we have lacked for so long. For the past twenty thousand years we have been using things that we found int he environment, a rock and a stick for example as tools. We got a little more sophisticated when we realised that certain types of rock contained ores of metals, and developed bronze, iron and finally steel tools, but we were still adapting things that we happened to find.
Synthetic chemistry and polymers moved us a few steps away from depending directly on things we stumbled upon in the natural world, but they have always been crude when compared to the creations of nature – bone is a favourite example of nature coming up with the prefect solution, something that is rigid without being brittle, and self repairing to a large extent.
But where we are heading now is that our combined knowledge of biology, chemistry, and physics is being applied at the nanoscale to create materials and devices that essentially mimic what nature has already created, but with the added element of control.As The Med Guru reports, the artificial artery is far from being just a bit of tubing, and our control over the nanoscale properties of the material, and our ability to reproduce this over larger areas, has enabled to device to have a number of different functions and it these in combination that makes this kind of breakthrough so important.
Study of controlling matter on an atomic and molecular scale coupled with use of nanotechnology enables the spikes to magnetize stem cells or ‘master cells’ from the blood.
“Once the stem cells are attracted to it, they cover the whole inside of it and turn into endothelial cells,” informs Professor Alexander Seifalian
That is the real technology revolution, the ability to specify the properties of an ideal material, and then create it.