If you haven’t heard of the term “carbon nanotubes” (CNTs) before, believe me – you will soon…
CNTs are essentially tiny, super-light, ultra-strong and highly conductive cylinders made up of sheets of graphite (or graphene).
And considering the applications scientists have been developing using the material, it seems like CNTs offer unlimited potential.
Recall that researchers at Stanford are using CNTs to develop a high-tech sensor to create synthetic skin grafts. And scientists at the University of Texas at Dallas used CNTs – which also absorb and radiate heat remarkably well – to replicate the mirage effect in a desert to turn objects invisible.
Now researchers at NASA have revealed yet another use for the material. One that I’m convinced will prove beneficial to astronauts and Earth-bound civilians alike.
Introducing the NASA Biocapsule
Dr. David Loftus, Medical Director of the Space Biosciences Division at NASA Ames, has created a device using CNTs that’s capable of delivering on-demand medical treatment to astronauts.
This is huge, since astronauts face constant danger of radiation while rocketing through space. As Gizmodo’s Brent Rose writes:
“Astronauts are at risk of acute radiation exposure from ‘solar particle events,’ sudden releases of intense radiation from the sun, which can damage bone marrow and wipe out someone’s immune system.”
But thanks to this new device, dubbed the NASA Biocapsule, astronauts may never have to worry about the negative effects of radiation again.
The Biocapsule is basically a container made of CNTs that’s filled with cells capable of producing therapeutic agents. In this case, NASA used a hormone called G-CSF, which is currently administered during radiation treatment for cancer patients.
The capsule is implanted under the skin. And when the body is exposed to radiation, the cells detect the problem. Then they release molecules through the CNT walls to help treat the threat.
Since the drugs are essentially on autopilot, the astronauts won’t even know the medication is being delivered. In fact, if the meds go to work fast enough, they might not even realize there was something wrong to begin with.
It’s not a single dose, either. The cells in the Biocapsule are capable of producing molecules on demand (using their own metabolism and nutrients supplied from the body). Meaning it can continue fighting the effects of radiation for months.
NASA plans to develop additional Biocapsules that stave off exhaustion, heat and stress, too.
And while that’s great for astronauts, what really has me tuned in is what this technology could do for medicine here on Earth, as well.
A True Game-Changer for the Pharmaceutical Industry
Since the Biocapsule can store medicine-producing cells of any kind, it stands to reason that the technology is capable of revolutionizing the entire pharmaceutical industry.
Dr. Loftus already envisions placing pancreatic cells (either engineered or taken from animals) in a Biocapsule for patients with diabetes. That way, the cells would be able to track the glucose levels in the blood and deliver insulin to the body when needed. Eliminating the need for diabetics to carry around insulin injections.
He also sees potential in using Biocapsules to treat cancer. Instead of subjecting the body to harsh chemotherapy treatment, doctors could simply implant a chemo-charged Biocapsule directly to a tumor site. That would keep healthy tissue and organs safe from the treatment’s negative effects.
It doesn’t end there though. Biocapsules could eventually replace all drug administration methods many people use on a daily basis.
No more pumping our bodies full of drugs that we might not need, just to stick to a routine for routine’s sake. The Biocapsule can simply release the right amount of meds when the body needs it. And since the cells can continue producing the therapeutic agents, no more refilling prescriptions every month, either.
There’s no denying that the technology poses a real threat to the $300 billion a year pharmaceutical industry. And I’m convinced that it’s going to garner a lot of positive attention in the months ahead.