"Nanosurgery: Miniaturization in surgery," is the title of an interesting item posted at the NanoTsunami site. The article is an except from a 465-page report called Nanobiotechnologies- applications, markets and companies, published by Jain PharmaBiotech.
Surgery is continuously moving towards more minimally invasive methods. The main driver of this technical evolution is patient recovery: the lesser the trauma inflicted on the patient, the shorter the recovery period.
Minimally invasive surgery, often performed by use of catheters navigating the vascular system, implies that the operator has little to no tactile or physical information about the environment near or at the surgical site [e.g., instrument force and performance; tissue density, temperature or chemistry; presence, composition, and quantity of fluids]. This information can be provided by biosensors implanted in the catheters. Nanotechnology will play an important role in the construction of miniaturized biosensing devices.
That's exciting, from a medical point of view, but it's not especially radical. However, this section...
Robotics is already developing for applications in life sciences and medicine. Robots can be programmed to perform routine surgical procedures. Nanobiotechnology introduces another dimension in robotics leading to the development of nanorobots also referred to as nanobots. Instead of performing procedures from outside the body, nanobots will be miniaturized for introduction into the body through the vascular system or at the end of catheters into various vessels and other cavities in the human body.
A surgical nanobot, programmed by a human surgeon, could act as an autonomous on-site surgeon inside the human body. Various functions such as searching for pathology, diagnosis and removal or correction of the lesion by nanomanipulation can be performed and coordinated by an on-board computer. Such concepts, once science fiction, are now considered to be within the realm of possibility. Nanorobots will have the capability to perform precise and refined intracellular surgery which is beyond the capability of manipulations by the human hand.
Surgical nanobots are moving closer to the mainstream. With capabilities "coordinated by an on-board computer," they almost certainly will be built through some form of molecular manufacturing.
UPDATE: Our colleague Howard Lovy points us to another paper called "Nanotechnology on duty in medical applications." Written by three researchers at the Institute of Cybernetics Engineering, Wroclaw University of Technology, the paper's abstract says...
This review is focused on the potential of nanotechnology in health care and medicine, including the development of nanoparticles for diagnostic and screening purposes, the manufacture of unique drug delivery systems, antisense and gene therapy applications and the enablement of tissue engineering, including the future of nanorobot construction.