[Paleopsych] NYT: Experts Give Scientists Roadmap on Nanotechnology Research

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Mon Oct 10 01:07:08 UTC 2005

Experts Give Scientists Roadmap on Nanotechnology Research


    Little is known so far about whether materials being invented by
    nanotechnology researchers can be hazardous to humans  and if so,
    under what conditions.

    But at least toxicologists studying such questions now have a broad
    roadmap from a government-sponsored panel of experts on how to

    Formally titled Principles for characterizing the potential human
    health effects from exposure to nanomaterials: elements of a screening
    strategy, the 85 page report, along with supporting documents, was
    published yesterday on the website of Particle and Fibre Toxicology,
    an online scientific journal.
    This is just looking at the human health effects, not how to test the
    impact on the broader environment, said Barbara Karn, an environmental
    scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency, the sponsor of the
    study. Thats also very important but eco-toxicity involves different
    types of tests.

    Nanotechnology is a collection of processing skills and products in
    which crucial dimensions are measured in nanometers, or billionths of
    a meter, a scale so tiny that molecular forces affect behavior. The
    report is concerned with materials, either natural or manmade, with at
    least one dimension smaller than 100 nanometers that is crucial to
    their behavior.

    Nanoscale materials often behave differently than the same materials
    in larger sizes. That gives them valuable new attributes like unusual
    strength or electrical characteristics, but it also raises questions
    about whether new products incorporating them might be unexpectedly

    Hundreds of products embodying nanotechnology, including consumer
    items like invisible sunscreens and stain-resistant clothing are
    already in use. But exploitation of the technology is still in its
    early stages and the quantities of nanomaterials in production are

    The lead author on the toxicology report is Günter Oberdörster, a
    toxicologist at the University of Rochester whose research has
    demonstrated that some nanoscale materials can migrate from the nose
    into the brain. He, Ms. Karn and the other 13 authors of the report
    cited a wide range of studies suggesting that nanoscale products may
    pose new health hazards.

    The report focuses primarily on just one half of the risk  the likely
    toxic impact of nanoparticles in the body. There is little comment on
    how to study the second crucial issue, the actual risk of exposure,
    because there are currently few instances where people are directly
    exposed to the new materials.

    The report emphasizes the need to characterize the particles in
    numerous ways, including shape, surface area, electrical
    characteristics and how likely they are to quickly form clumps that
    interact with the body differently than separate particles. It also
    describes a variety of tests for studying the impact of the materials
    on different organs and to test the different impacts of eating,
    breathing or touching the particles.

    The detail in the report highlights why toxicology research generally
    moves at a glacial pace compared to new product development. That
    discrepancy has led some critics of nanotechnology to call for strict
    government regulation or moratoriums on the introduction of products
    based on the technology. But advocates for the technology say that the
    report released yesterday is one of many signs that development is
    moving along with reasonable caution.
    Its extraordinary that so much attention is being paid to health and
    safety risks at this early stage of development, said Michael R.
    Pontrelli, a lawyer in Boston who has been studying potential
    liability issues with the technology.

    The report does not propose any kinds of tests that are not already
    familiar to toxicologists, according to Ms. Karn. This is the way to
    identify health impacts on humans, she said. We were not looking for
    methods that would show why the particles had those effects. You might
    need nanoscale tests for that.

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