HEALTHCARE DESIGN.09 educational session: 2030 Nanotechnology in Hospitals: Is the Future Smaller?

Presenter: Angela Burke, March, Sc, Dip Arch, Miss, NBBJ Architects

In Angela Burke’s presentation, she attempted to conclude whether or not, with the emergence of nanotechnology and ever-smaller robotics, the hospital of the future would be smaller and the massive hospitals currently being constructed in the United States would no longer be needed.

One of the most interesting statements she made came at the very beginning: Nanotechnology is not a technology. Instead, Burke stated that it was technology research and development of different structures and compositions. Essentially, it’s the study of how things functional on an atomic and purely structural level with later application to robotics. An example she continually used was “swallowing the surgeon,” an idea that, with nanotechnology and the understanding of how the human body works on an atomic scale, there could possibly be a robot that you’d swallow, which would do the procedure automatically.

The future of nanotechnology is the advent of light weight, super strength materials, increased computer technology—so powerful that it may eventually surpass the speed of brain activity—and energy efficient power. What researchers are learning by studying nanotechnology is that, on the atomic level, things function completely differently that they do on a macro level, and if scientists can more fully understand it, they will be able to produce enhanced robotics, materials, and computers.

The rate at which these discoveries are happening and becoming functional information is a bit slower. Burke stated that the current use of microtechnology is estimated to continue until 2020 and largely won’t become more advanced—“you won’t be able to make microchips any smaller.” And in terms of nanotechnology, Burke hypothesizes that that the first application of nanotechnology in healthcare (called nanomedicine) won’t arrive until 2015-2025. The current state of nanomedicine, however, breaks down into four basic categories: custom-made pharmaceuticals, “swallowing the surgeon”, lab on a chip—likely the first piece of nanomedicine to be put into the market—and molecular engineering.

In the end, Burke concluded that the hospital of the future is not going to be smaller than the current ones in use. She cites an increasing population as well as the growing elderly population with a greater need for treatments as the main reason for this.