Building a European infrastructure in nanobiotechnology

(Nanowerk Spotlight) Last month, EuroNanoBio – a Support Action funded under the 7th Framework Programme of the European Union – has issued its report on a conceptual framework and a tool box to structure the European capacity in nanobiotechnology.
The EuroNanoBio project is made up of seven European partners from seven countries: CEA in France, Bioanalytik-muenster in Germany, Tyndall National Institute in Ireland, Mesa+ in The Netherlands, Fondazione Don Gnocchi in Italy, Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia in Spain, and the National Institute of Microtechnology in Romania.
The EuroNanoBio partners explored the definition, establishment and further development of a European scale infrastructure on nanobiotechnology and the associated realistic implementation plan. It aimed at defining not only the key features of a potential European infrastructure in nanobiotechnology, but it has also established the way it should be designed.
The project's final report explains the rationale behind the project:
Nanobiotechnology is essentially different in many aspects from other areas of nanotechnology such as nano-electronics or nano-materials. It is certainly the most complex sub-area of nanotechnology, because it simultaneously involves very distant scientific disciplines such as physics and clinical research, biology and mathematics, or engineering and immunology. From the industrial perspective, nanobiotechnology does not yet represent an industry by itself or an existing market, but more a manifold of enabling technologies to aid existing sectors, such as medical technologies, pharma, biotech, food, cosmetics or water management and environmental applications.
To promote successful research and translate it efficiently into economic applications in such an inherently complex environment requires a structured and efficient sharing of both knowledge and equipment among stakeholders from many academic disciplines and industries. This calls for an integration of people from different backgrounds, who had little or no previous contact or knowledge of each other. The best way to achieve this integration and to accommodate the complexity of nanobiotechnology is to set up a coordinated distributed European infrastructure of regional competence clusters.
Specifically, the project team makes several key recommendations for a European nanobiotechnology infrastructure:
A distributed infrastructure
1. To cover the large range of scientific disciplines involved in nanobiotechnology and the diversity of application areas, a European infrastructure has to be built on regional nanobio clusters, which have world-class facilities and expertise with high levels of engagement between industry and academia.
2. The nanobio clusters need to be connected and coordinated to share knowledge and equipment and to cover the whole value chain in specific application areas of nanobiotechnology such as environment or medicine, for example.
3. A dedicated infrastructure management should improve the engagement between academic disciplines, research centres and companies inside and between the involved clusters.
4. Clear technical roadmaps for each of the application areas within nanobio should be defined to provide a catalyst for collaboration between industry and academia within the infrastructure.
5. ELSA experts should be encouraged to work collaboratively with science departments, research institutes and industry to help explore ethical, legal and social aspects (ELSA) of developing nanobiotechnology thereby enabling early decision making about the probability of commercialisation in a socially and ethically responsible manner.
6. Set-up and upgrading of clusters will require local, national and European political support and funding supplemented by private investments at a later more mature stage.
Central services
7. A European reference centre is needed for characterization and toxicology studies of nanoobjects, which can be accessed by all nanoobject producers and users from academia and companies similar to the Nanotechnology Characterization Lab at NCI/USA.
8. A European Centre for Risk and Safety Management should be established, which provides information and advice about handling of nanoobjects and protection measures to SMEs and universities, which cannot afford expensive risk assessment.
9. Clusters should help especially SMEs to articulate their needs and interests to regulatory and standardisation bodies.
Communication and public engagement
10. The infrastructure should provide pools of experts and professional communication tools necessary for engagement with the public.
11. Promotion of the capabilities of nanobiotechnology to SMEs and clinicians should be facilitated by showcasing examples of successful exploitation of nanobiotechnology.
12. Engagement of the European infrastructure with nanobio clusters and research centres outside Europe should be encouraged.
Education and training
13. The highly interdisciplinary nature of nanobiotechnology requires the integration of dedicated nanobio modules preferably at the MSc or PhD level.
14. Because nanobiotechnology touches on many important wider issues, teaching an understanding of ethical and social aspects and training in science communication and public engagement should be included at the MSc and PhD level.
15. Due to the rapid development in nanobiotechnology, targeted education and training programmes for incareer training need to be developed.
Michael Berger By – Michael is author of three books by the Royal Society of Chemistry:
Nano-Society: Pushing the Boundaries of Technology,
Nanotechnology: The Future is Tiny, and
Nanoengineering: The Skills and Tools Making Technology Invisible
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