We’re intrigued and excited by the medical and health-related possibilities of nanobots: injectable robots 50 to 100 nanometers in diameter (a nanometer is 1 billionth of a meter). Radio frequency waves can activate nanobots that carry miniaturized electronic circuitry and can also transport pharmaceutical payloads. We wrote previously about Israeli researchers from UBar-Ilan University who used nanobots to release psychoactive drugs when patients are in a specific mental state. But some nanobots can function much more simply.

Westmeath, Ireland-based Elbe Valley Medical won first place winner in the final heat of Medstartr’s 2021 Vision healthcare technology competition. Elbe Valley specializes in applications of micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) to treat critical conditions, especially solid tumors or cancers. The prize-winning technology is a nanobot that blocks blood flow to body tissue areas surrounding tumors. When the area around the tumor is targeted by radio frequency waves, nanobots in the blood stream in that specific area spread moon-lander-like appendages to anchor the nanobot in the blood capillary and block the blood flow. The 20-minute treatment is monitored via MRI; when the tissues and tumors die, the radio wave field is turned off and normal blood flow resumes.

Elbe Valley Medical successfully tested its nanobot technology with two mice with different tumor types. The company expects to enter Phase I human clinical trials in 2023. According to Elbe Valley Medical, the ability to constrain the nanobot activity to a specific, limited area increases the positive effect of the treatment and minimizes damage to wider areas of the body, as can occur with conventional radiation and chemotherapies.

Nanobots may sound like science fiction to most of us today, but the technology currently advancing at institutions such as MIT and Harvard’s Wyss Institute has potential to significantly improve patient outcomes. Therapy or treatments with nearly-unimaginably-small nanobots is like handing trading a broadsword for a scalpel, and that’s a very good thing.