Nanomedicine, Volume I: Basic Capabilities

© 1999 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Nanomedicine, Volume I: Basic Capabilities, Landes Bioscience, Georgetown, TX, 1999 Diagnosis

Diagnosis is the determination of the cause and nature of a disease in order to provide a logical basis for treatment and prognosis. Traditionally the diagnostic process begins with a thorough history taken from the patient and a relevant physical examination. Often this sufficed to make a confident diagnosis, but the cause of some illnesses remained uncertain without recourse to additional information such as blood tests or radiological examinations. Nanotechnology-based diagnosis (Chapter 18) will consist principally of examining the patient to determine how he or she deviates from autogenous reference structures and functions, and then interpreting those deviations as healthy or unhealthy for that patient.

In the 20th century, diagnoses frequently involved a high degree of uncertainty, largely due to the general lack of comprehensive molecular diagnostic tools. Thus diagnosis would be guided by statistical analyses; one branch of decision analysis, called utility analysis, even allowed the patient to participate in the decisionmaking process.2227 When the correct decision is unclear, urges one textbook, it is well to remember time-honored Hippocratic aphorisms such as "first, do no harm" and "common things occur commonly." The eminent Canadian physician Sir William Osler (1849-1919) lamented that "errors of judgement must occur in the practice of an art which consists largely in balancing probabilities." Most doctors would prefer to understand the root cause of medical problems rather than adopt mere statistical approaches.

Nanomedical tools will vastly reduce diagnostic uncertainty. Using nanomedical instrumentalities, doctors will gain access to unprecedented amounts of information about their patients including in-office comprehensive genotyping and real-time whole-body scans for particular bacterial coat markers, tumor cell antigens, mineral deposits, suspected toxins, hormone imbalances of genetic or lifestyle origin, and other specified molecules, producing three-dimensional maps of desired targets with submillimeter spatial resolution. Embedded in vivo nanomedical data archives (Section 10.2.5, Chapter 19) can provide onboard storage of regularly updated self-diagnostic scans, reducing to a minimum the need for symptomatic interview data from patients who may be unconscious, inarticulate, or verbose, who may have limited powers of self-analysis or self-observation and who may have forgotten, suppressed, or amplified descriptions of symptoms.

Of course, physicians do not require an exhaustive survey of the entire body of each patient to molecular detail to make a valid diagnosis. In any particular case, it is the function of the trained medical mind to quickly ascertain where and where not to look in molecular detail. But in the nanomedical era, powerful tools will be available to allow the practitioner to examine almost any portion of a patient in as much detail as desired, right down to the molecular level, with results available in seconds or minutes, and at reasonable cost (e.g. Section 2.4.2).


Last updated on 5 February 2003