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Posted: March 10, 2008
Expert explains challenges facing nanotechnology
(Nanowerk News) Filling the major gaps that exist in the understanding of the health, safety, environmental and societal impacts of nanotechnology is critically important to its long term success, a researcher said yesterday.
Lori Sheremeta, research officer at the Canadian Institute for Nanotechnology, was making a presentation on ‘Nanotechnology Stewardship’ on the concluding day of the first international symposium on applied nanomedicine, hosted by Qatar Foundation.
There are promising claims in the use of nanotechnology for a variety of applications (such as targeting bacterial cells, cleaning arteries and performing analysis of immune system molecules), which would transform how diseases are detected and how pre and post-treatments could be monitored.
“We know that nanotechnology will be used to enable controversial frontiers in science, for example reproductive and genetic technologies, regenerative medicine, synthetic biology and food science, and it has sparked public interest,” Sheremeta explained.
Referring to the lacunae that exist in the understanding of nanotechnology, the speaker pointed out that the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in the US had declared in January 2006 that from the environmental perspective, nanotechnology is difficult to address under existing regulations.
“It was pointed out that a new law may be required to manage potential risks of nanotechnology, and new mechanisms and institutional capabilities are needed,” she said.
The Center stated in October 2006 that the Food and Drug Administration is not ready for nanotechnology and there is a clear need to define when a nanomaterial is new for legal and regulatory purposes and for safety evaluation purposes.
The European Commission Nano Code maintains that as long as risk assessment studies on long-term safety is not available, research involving deliberate intrusion of nano-objects into the human body (especially in food for babies), feed, toys, cosmetics and other products that may lead to exposure to humans and the environment should be avoided.
“It is estimated that well over 600 nano-products, as of February this year, are available in categories including goods for children, appliances, automotive, food and beverage, electronics, home and garden, and health and fitness,” Sheremeta said.
Citing the legal and regulatory challenges, she said that there is a lack of consistent definition of nanotechnology, and data is insufficient about effects of nanomaterials on human health and the environment.
“There is uncertainty with regard to safety and toxicity assessments for drugs, medical devices, combination products, cosmetics, foods, pesticides and other consumer products that incorporate nanomaterials,” she observed.
Sheremeta also added that there is uncertainty around the effectiveness and appropriateness of standard occupational health and safety procedures and equipment to limit worker exposure to nanomaterials/nanoparticles.
The symposium was intended to present the current and latest discoveries that nanotechnology can offer to address disease-related issues, and present work on applied nanomedicine around the Middle East and North Africa region.
The other aims were to gather the ethical, legal and regulatory perspectives on the use of nanomedicine in human treatments, and to establish collaborative projects to address healthcare challenges facing Qatar.
The desired outcome of the symposium is an innovative agenda for real work with all interested parties to form interdisciplinary affiliations and partnerships leading to advances in improving clinical care, medical training and research, and the availability of dedicated nanotechnology facilities to sustain the long term development of nanomedicine.