Molecular robots. What are they? How do they work? Are they ethical? A piece written by Heather Zeiger, a bioethicists, gives all the lowdown on how they work and the ethics behind them.
While she goes into detail on how they work (read her article for more in depth explanation), I just want to give the big picture. Overall, these that she talks about, are not these little machines that run about the body on wheels or legs or any thing like that. They are little tags that cause a chain reaction of events that tell the body to do something, such as destroy a diseased cell. In other words, they are molecules, designed by scientists, that are to be injected into someone. They are able to tag diseased cells, such as cancer cells, and these cells are then destroyed.
However, she does have a couple of concerns. Like anything in science we have to think through the implications. We have to weight the pros and the cons.
Here are her ethical concerns.
Always with new technologies, there is a question of safety. If this concept works in vivo, and researchers are able to identify tagged cells, the next step will be to see if the automata produce any adverse side-effects.
Additionally, as is the case with things like contrast agents and biological markers, getting the tags into the body is one thing, but getting them out is another. The first question is “Will these automata need to be removed?” The second question is “If so, then how?”(1)
Again, science is not a free-for-all game, we do have issues that we have to think about before we jump into the process. However, not everything “man-made” is wrong. We just have to consider the consequences and ethics. Is it moral, will it destroy life, what are the reasons we are doing it for? All these and more have to be considered as we do science.
(1) Zeiger, Heather. Bioethics.com. http://bioethics.com/?p=14106