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Posted: October 15, 2008

EU researchers urge public debate on nanobiotechnology

(Nanowerk News) A public debate on the merits of nanobiotechnology is urgently needed if people's fears about the emerging science are to be allayed, EU-funded researchers recommend in a new report.
Nanobiotechnology has the power to drastically transform society, yet all too often the dialogue regarding this science has been dominated by fear, created by novels such as Prey, by Michael Crichton, and news headlines about a 'grey goo nightmare'.
Now a new report, written as part of the EU-funded NanoBio-RAISE project, concludes that the public needs to be engaged in order to calm such fears. The report was presented at the recent EuroBIO2008 conference in Paris, France.
The NanoBio-RAISE project was funded by the EU under the Science and Society Activity area of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) to the tune of EUR 553,845.
The project combines science communication with ethics research in nanobiotechnology and aims to anticipate any societal and ethical issues that may arise.
Over the course of a series of workshops, bioethicists from the US and Europe gathered information and investigated the impact of nanobiotechnology in the areas of food and medicine as well as the emerging field of human enhancement. A final workshop looked into methods of engaging the public in an informed debate over specific issues.
With regard to the issue of human enhancement, the report discovered a divergent attitude between the US and the EU. In Europe, human enhancement focuses on regenerative medicine and neurodegenerative disease, while in the US, the interest is primarily military, focussing on creating 'bionic soldiers'. Debate in the US also revolves around the nature of the human condition and how we can enhance, rather than just repair, our physical and mental states.
Current fears regarding nanobiotechnology seemed to be dominated by the issue of nanofood technology, commonly associated with genetically modified (GM) foods. Also dominating the discussion are certain ideas rooted in science fiction such as replicator vending machines. Nanomedicine is viewed in a much better light, with certain advancements being heralded as great achievements. These include improved diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of patients, particularly in areas such as cancer, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disease.
On the basis of these findings, NanoBio-RAISE coordinator Dr David Bennett and his colleagues have called for a proactive response to reassure the public over the potential of nanobiotechnology.
'There is a consistent demand for more open discussion and public involvement in policy making relating to science and technology overall than has been afforded up to now. Nanobiotechnology is the latest and, in our opinion, one of the most pressing areas in which this demand must be met. We believe that the EU has a major role to play in working with the research community, industry and other stakeholders to initiate innovative and effective programmes and activities across the community,' he said.
Source: Cordis