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Posted: March 5, 2007

Nanotechnology could improve health, water in developing nations

(Nanowerk News) Nanotechnology, science on the scale of atoms and molecules, could give developing nations new ways to diagnose and treat disease and make clean water more available, if governments, nongovernmental organizations, industry and others would work to apply the powerful technology to these challenges, scientists say.
"Nanotechnology has the potential to generate enormous health benefits for the more than 5 billion people living in the developing world,” said Peter Singer, senior scientist at the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health and professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, at a February 27 meeting, Using Nanotechnology to Improve Health Care in Developing Countries.
The event was organized by two Woodrow Wilson International Center efforts – the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies and the Global Health Initiative.
Nanotechnologies are being developed in nearly every industry, including electronics, magnetics and optoelectronics, energy, information technology, materials development, transportation, pharmaceuticals and medicine.
The emerging field involves scientists from many disciplines, including physicists, chemists, engineers, materials scientists and biologists. More than 400 consumer products worldwide are derived from the use of nanotechnology in some way.
In 2005, Singer’s group in Toronto published a study identifying and ranking the 10 nanotechnologies most likely to benefit the developing world in the near future.
At the top of the list were nanotechnology applications related to energy storage, production and conversion; enhancement of agricultural productivity; water treatment and remediation; and the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
The group also showed that a surprising amount of nanotechnology research and development activity is ongoing in several developing countries, and that these nations are directing their nanotechnology innovation systems to address their more pressing needs.
"Countries like Brazil, India, China and South Africa have significant nanotechnology research initiatives that could be directed toward the particular needs of the poor,” said Andrew Maynard, chief science adviser for the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.
In a 2005 paper ("Nanotechnology and the Developing World") describing his team’s study, Nanotechnology and the Developing World, Singer said India's Department of Science and Technology would invest $20 million in 2004–2009 for a Nanomaterials Science and Technology Initiative.
The number of nanotechnology patent applications from China ranks third, behind the United States and Japan. In Brazil, the projected budget for nanoscience during 2004-2007 was about $25 million.
The South African Nanotechnology Initiative is a national network of academic researchers involved in nanotechnology, and other developing countries, such as Thailand, the Philippines, Chile, Argentina and Mexico, are pursuing nanotechnology, according to Singer’s paper.
In the United States, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Cancer Institute (NCI) has formed the Nanotechnology Alliance for Cancer to move more quickly molecular-based science from the laboratory into the clinic.
"Nanotechnologies could revolutionize health care in developing countries,” said Alliance Director Piotr Grodzinski, “and make treatments more readily available for diseases that claim millions of lives around the world each year."
Nanomaterials and nanomedical devices, he added, “will play increasingly critical and beneficial roles in improving the way we diagnose, treat, and ultimately prevent cancer and other diseases.”
It might one day be possible, for example, for citizens in Bangladesh to place contaminated water in inexpensive transparent bottles that will disinfect the water when placed in direct sunlight, or for doctors in Mexico to give patients vaccines that can be inhaled and that do not need to be refrigerated.
The challenges, Grodzinski said, include the complexity of bringing such treatments into the clinic and the cost of care. As a result, the distribution of nanotechnology treatments might be more gradual in some developing countries.
To help the international community support the application of nanotechnology to critical sustainable development challenges in developing countries, including health care, Singer and his group proposed an initiative called “Addressing Global Challenges Using Nanotechnology.”
Modeled after the Foundation for the NIH/Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Grand Challenges in Global Health, the initiative would be funded by national and international foundations, and from collaboration among nanotechnology initiatives in industrialized and developing countries.
Responsible development of nanotechnology must include benefits for people in both rich and poor nations and at relatively low cost,” Maynard said. “This also requires that careful attention be paid to possible risks nanotechnology poses for human health and the environment."
Source: U.S. Department of State
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