Nanotech expert James Baker of the University of Michigan is now turning his attention to the battlefield, hoping that tiny drug-carrying particles could one day help injured soldiers. Baker, who has also been exploring the use of nanoparticles as diagnostic tools for astronauts on missions to Mars, thinks nanotech could be used to deliver painkillers to injured troops as they wait for medical attention.

Morphine, one of the military’s preferred painkillers today, is far from ideal because trained medical personnel need to administer it – the soldier, or someone in his group, can’t just give it to himself. What Baker envisions is a pen-like device that a soldier would use to inject a stream of drug-bearing nanoparticles into an injured area. The nanoparticles might deliver a slow release of morphine, keeping the soldier comfortable and stable until he or she gets proper care. But it would also be able to counteract one of the dangerous side effects of morphine, the suppression of regular breathing. If necessary, the particles would release a drug that fights these negative effects, keeping the soldier stable. For now the work will be limited to lab studies, but it could be tested in animals before too long.—Gregory Mone