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Report Conveys Value and Threats of Nanotechnology Research

By BiotechDaily International staff writers
Posted on 04 Feb 2013
While scientists constantly increase their knowledge of biology and the surrounding world, all this newly gleaned information has the potential to advance healthcare, it is also possible that the same discoveries can also be used in ways that cause extensive havoc.

A new report assessed the potential for nanosized particles to break the blood-brain barrier (BBB), the closely-knit layers of cells that provide the brain with the highest level of protection in the human body. Some neuroscientists are modifying nanoparticles that can cross the BBB so as to deliver medicines in a targeted and controlled way directly to diseased regions of the brain.

A new article published January 17, 2013, in the journal Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine, came about out of a US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) workshop held at the University of Notre Dame (West Bend, IN, USA) in September 2012, tackles this complicated “dual-use” a feature of nanotechnology research.

“The rapid pace of breakthroughs in nanotechnology, biotechnology, and other fields, holds the promise of great improvements in areas such as medical diagnosis and treatment,” said Dr. Kathleen Eggleson, a research scientist in Notre Dame University’s Center for Nano Science and Technology and the author of the study. “But the risk of misuse of these breakthroughs rises along with the potential benefit. This is the essence of the ‘dual-use dilemma.’”

At the same time, the report noted, “nanoparticles designed to cross the BBB constitute a serious threat…in the context of combat.” For instance, it is hypothesized that aerosol delivery of some nanoengineered agent in “a crowded indoor space” could cause serious harm to many people at once. The difficulties presented by dual-use research was highlighted in 2012 when a debate exploded over the publication of findings that indicate how, with several modifications, the H5N1 influenza virus can be altered in a way that would enable it to be transmitted between mammalian populations.

After a self-imposed one-year moratorium on this research, several laboratories worldwide reported that they will resume the research in early 2013. The FBI is actively responding to these advances in the scientific community. “The law enforcement-security community is seeking to strengthen the existing dialogue with researchers,” stated William So, of the FBI’s Biological countermeasures unit. “Science flourishes because of the open and collaborative atmosphere for sharing and discussing ideas. The FBI believes this model can do the same for our two communities [… and] create effective safeguards for science and national interests.”

The scientists and engineers who conduct nanoscale research have the ability and responsibility to consider the public safety features of their research and to act to protect society when necessary, argued Dr. Eggleson. “The relationship between science and society is an uneasy one, but it is undeniable on the whole and not something any individual can opt out of in the name of progress for humanity’s benefit. Thought about dual-use, and action when appropriate, is inherent to socially responsible practice of nanobiomedical science.”

Related Links:
Notre Dame University’s Center for Nano Science and Technology



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