Thursday, June 12, 2008


A while back I posted a few items about nanotoxicology. Back then, I must confess I didn’t know much beyond those few articles. Now that I’ve had some time to really review the nanotoxicology literature here are a few thoughts about the rapidly developing field.

The potential toxicity of nanomaterials or nanoparticles in either human or ecosystems is of concern to researchers, government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), industry and consumers around the globe. However, even with all of the past experiences with developing and regulating chemicals – even with the knowledge that before new chemicals (or new formulations of old chemicals) blanket the earth we ought to understand their potential impacts – the health and environmental impacts of specific nanoparticles lags far behind nanoparticle technology.

I’ve also learned that although government agencies, research collaboratives and others are working to remedy this situation, the funding available for research on health and environmental effects of nanoparticles, or nanotoxicology, compared with money spent on R&D, is in the millions verses billions spent on development.

But before we despair that once again, the nanokitties have left the residents of Whoville holding the bag, nanotoxicology does have several advantages over other “ancestral” fields of toxicology including:

  • Hindsight revealing flawed strategies of the past which led to inadequate prevention and protection (though this one is quickly slipping away.)
  • The more global economy, where regulations in one country for example may impact development of a product in another (the newer EU requirements under REACH for example) in addition to greater potential for international collaboration may stretch resources beyond those that any one government might be able to contribute alone.
  • Industries wishing to convince us that in addition to the “bottom line,” they really do care about health and the environment have shown some interest, and in some cases taken leadership in the field of nanotoxicology research – or entering partnerships with environmental NGOs (for example Dupont and Environmental Defense).
  • These days, the internet provides a powerful mechanism for rapid distribution of government, NGO and academic reports, providing all stakeholders – even us peons who sit at home, our computers our only source of information - access to emerging data, technology, and publications. It will be interesting to monitor the impact of public oversight of the field as it develops.

Yet despite all of this potential, the “state of the science” on environmental and health effects research today is something of a hodgepodge. But more on that later!

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