- Health impact of nanotechnology
Part of a series of articles on the
The health impact of nanotechnology are the possible effects that the use of nanotechnological materials and devices will have on human health. As nanotechnology is an emerging field, there is great debate regarding to what extent nanotechnology will benefit or pose risks for human health. Nanotechnology's health impact can be split into two aspects: the potential for nanotechnological innovations to have medical applications to cure disease, and the potential health hazards posed by exposure to nanomaterials.
The extremely small size of nanomaterials also means that they are much more readily taken up by the human body than larger sized particles. How these nanoparticles behave inside the body is one of the issues that needs to be resolved. The behavior of nanoparticles is a function of their size, shape and surface reactivity with the surrounding tissue. They could cause overload on phagocytes, cells that ingest and destroy foreign matter, thereby triggering stress reactions that lead to inflammation and weaken the body’s defense against other pathogens. Apart from what happens if non-degradable or slowly degradable nanoparticles accumulate in organs, another concern is their potential interaction with biological processes inside the body: because of their large surface, nanoparticles on exposure to tissue and fluids will immediately adsorb onto their surface some of the macromolecules they encounter. This may, for instance, effect the regulatory mechanisms of enzymes and other proteins.
Other properties of nanomaterials that influence toxicity include: chemical composition, shape, surface structure, surface charge, aggregation and solubility, and the presence or absence of functional groups of other chemicals. The large number of variables influencing toxicity means that it is difficult to generalise about health risks associated with exposure to nanomaterials – each new nanomaterial must be assessed individually and all material properties must be taken into account.
In October 2008, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), within the California Environmental Protection Agency, announced its intent to request information regarding analytical test methods, fate and transport in the environment, and other relevant information from manufacturers of carbon nanotubes. DTSC is exercising its authority under the California Health and Safety Code, Chapter 699, sections 57018-57020. These sections were added as a result of the adoption of Assembly Bill AB 289 (2006). They are intended to make information on the fate and transport, detection and analysis, and other information on chemicals more available. The law places the responsibility to provide this information to the Department on those who manufacture or import the chemicals.
On January 22, 2009, a formal information request letter was sent to manufacturers who produce or import carbon nanotubes in California, or who may export carbon nanotubes into the State. This letter constitutes the first formal implementation of the authorities placed into statute by AB 289 and is directed to manufacturers of carbon nanotubes, both industry and academia within the State, and to manufacturers outside California who export carbon nanotubes to California. This request for information must be met by the manufacturers within one year. DTSC is waiting for the upcoming January 22, 2010 deadline for responses to the data call-in.
The California Nano Industry Network and DTSC hosted a full-day symposium on November 16, 2009 in Sacramento, CA. This symposium provided an opportunity to hear from nanotechnology industry experts and discuss future regulatory considerations in California.
DTSC is expanding the Specific Chemical Information Call-in to members of the nanometal oxides. Interested individuals are encouraged to visit their website for the latest up-to-date information at http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/TechnologyDevelopment/Nanotechnology/index.cfm.
Nanomedicine is the medical application of nanotechnology. The approaches to nanomedicine range from the medical use of nanomaterials, to nanoelectronic biosensors, and even possible future applications of molecular nanotechnology. Current problems for nanomedicine involve understanding the issues related to toxicity and environmental impact of nanoscale materials.
Nanomedicine research is directly funded, with the US National Institutes of Health in 2005 funding a five-year plan to set up four nanomedicine centers. In April 2006, the journal Nature Materials estimated that 130 nanotech-based drugs and delivery systems were being developed worldwide.
Nanomedicine seeks to deliver a set of research tools and clinical devices in the near future. The National Nanotechnology Initiative expects new commercial applications in the pharmaceutical industry that may include advanced drug delivery systems, new therapies, and in vivo imaging. Neuro-electronic interfaces and other nanoelectronics-based sensors are another active goal of research. Further down the line, the speculative field of molecular nanotechnology believes that cell repair machines could revolutionize medicine and the medical field.
Nanomedicine is a large industry, with nanomedicine sales reaching $6.8 billion in 2004. With over 200 companies and 38 products worldwide, a minimum of $3.8 billion in nanotechnology R&D is being invested every year. As the nanomedicine industry continues to grow, it is expected to have a significant impact on the economy.
Currently, nanotech gene therapy has been able to kill ovarian cancer in mice while avoiding the side effects of cisplatin and paclitaxel; it is speculated that this technology could save 15000 women in the United States each year if the treatment proves effective and safe in humans.
Research on nanoelectronics-based cancer diagnostics could lead to tests that can be done in pharmacies. The results promise to be highly accurate and the product promises to be inexpensive. They could take a very small amount of blood and detect cancer anywhere in the body in about five minutes, with a sensitivity that is a thousand times better than in a conventional laboratory test. These devices that are built with nanowires to detect cancer proteins; each nanowire detector is primed to be sensitive to a different cancer marker. The biggest advantage of the nanowire detectors is that they could test for anywhere from ten to one hundred similar medical conditions without adding cost to the testing device.
- Impact of nanotechnology
- List of nanotechnology applications
- International Center for Technology Assessment
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- ^ Magrez, Arnaud; et al. (2006). "Cellular Toxicity of Carbon-Based Nanomaterials". Nano Letters 6 (6): 1121–1125. doi:10.1021/nl060162e. PMID 16771565.
- ^ Nanotechnology web page. Department of Toxic Substances Control. 2008. http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/TechnologyDevelopment/Nanotechnology/index.cfm.
- ^ Chemical Information Call-In web page. Department of Toxic Substances Control. 2008. http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/PollutionPrevention/Chemical_Call_In.cfm.
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- ^ "Nanotech gene therapy kills ovarian cancer in mice". Reuters. 30 July 2009. http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/07/30/us-cancer-nanotechnology-idUSTRE56T4GB20090730. Retrieved 2011-07-05.
- ^ "Drug Store Cancer Tests". Technology Review. 2005-10-31. http://www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/14887/. Retrieved 2009-10-08.
- Is nanotechnology a health timebomb? (New Scientist)
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