‘Safe handling of nanotechnology’ ten years on

07.12.2016

In 2006, a group of scientists proposed five grand challenges to support the safe development and handling of nanotechnology. Ten years on, in an article published this week in Nature Nanotechnology, Andrew Maynard (Director of the Risk Innovation Lab at Arizona State University) and Robert Aitken (Director of SAFENANO and Chief Executive of the Institute of Occupational Medicine) – two of the original authors – look at where we have come, and where we still need to go.

In the article, Maynard and Aitken provide a personal assessment of progress made toward addressing each of the original five grand challenges, namely:

  1. instruments to assess exposure to engineered nanomaterials in air and water;
  2. methods to evaluate the toxicity of engineered nanomaterials;
  3. models for predicting the potential impact of engineered nanomaterials on the environment and human health;
  4. systems for evaluating the health and environmental impact of engineered nanomaterials over their entire life; and
  5. the need for strategic programmes that enable relevant risk-focused research.

Whilst there are indications of substantial progress in some areas and a lot that has been learned over the last decade, the authors highlight critical shortfalls in other areas that potentially limit the safe development and beneficial uses of nanotechnology.  The remaining challenges are not nano-specific per se, they say, but represent a materials challenge more broadly.

‘As our ability to create new and unusual materials advances across multiple length scales, we need to become more sophisticated in understanding how these materials will interact with biological systems, and how we can anticipate and avoid harmful effects. And this brings us back full circle to the 2006 grand challenges,’ the authors write.  ‘Here […] if we simply substitute “engineered nanomaterials” for “environmental agents” in our five grand challenges, we have a set of strategic research goals that is as relevant today as it was ten years ago.’

The full article is available to access online via Nature Nanotechnology.

Reference: Maynard, AD and Aitken, RJ. 2016. ‘Safe handling of nanotechnology’ ten years on. Nature Nanotechnology; 11, 998-1000. doi:10.1038/nnano.2016.270

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