WASHINGTON, DC, --A report on the findings of two international workshops aimed at defining a set of research needs for assessing potential nanotechnology risks was released today by the International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON) at an event sponsored by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC.
Held in January and June of 2007, the ICON workshops brought together more than 70 experts from academia, industry, government agencies and non-governmental organizations and 13 countries in an unprecedented international collaboration. Their goal centered on a global research strategy for understanding nanotechnology's environmental and health impacts.
"Our 'grand challenge'—producing computational models that predict interactions of engineered nanoparticles with organisms—will take some time, perhaps 10 years," said Dr. Vicki L. Colvin, executive director of ICON and professor of chemistry and chemical engineering at Rice University. "But the systematic approach taken in these workshops, of breaking the big challenge into component areas, will provide a solid foundation for further research, enable risk management and guide commercial development."
ICON sponsored the workshops in response to the growing commercialization of nanotechnology applications and the accompanying concerns about the lack of research conducted into the safety of the relatively new science. By virtue of their size, shape or surface characteristics, many nanoparticles exhibit properties that aren't observed in the bulk form of the same material. While these properties make nanotechnology promising in medical, environmental and energy applications, they are also causing many researchers to wonder about adverse effects nanoparticles may have on living organisms or the environment.
"The broad participation in these workshops represents the kind of decision-making process that is essential to determining how nanotechnology can be used safely," said Dr. Andrew Maynard, chief science advisor to PEN and member of ICON's Executive Committee.
Workshop participants identified 26 research needs to predict nano-biointeractions, a second set of six research needs for risk management, and outlined two-, five- and 10-year goals for producing tools to help all stakeholders characterize the risks of emerging nanotechnologies. In addition, participants agreed on the need for a shared language, as well as defined research methods and materials, for researchers to be successful in developing predictive models.
"Independent efforts such as this one add tremendous value to the work we're doing at the governmental level," said Dr. Sally Tinkle, senior science advisor to the acting director at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health. "The ICON report provides a detailed roadmap for addressing a specific grand challenge and can inform the federal strategy."
The first workshop, which was hosted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, focused on classifying nanomaterials and exploring whether existing information about physical and chemical properties is adequate for determining biointeractions. Participants identified the following research needs: tools and models to describe the dynamic nature of nanomaterials throughout their lifecycle; screening tools to correlate the functional properties of nanomaterials with their potential for biological interactions; and exposure assessment studies to determine the net dose for various biointeractions.
The second workshop, which was hosted by Swiss Reinsurance Company at the Centre for Global Dialogue in Rüschlikon, Switzerland, focused on identifying the research needed to predict the biological effects of an engineered nanoparticle and defining strategies to develop predictive models. They include: quantitative models to describe the way the properties of nanoparticles affect biomolecular interactions; independent validation of dose and dose rate for nanomaterials; biomarkers to address the vast diversity of nanoparticle types; and strong correlative models for predicting biological effects based on laboratory results.
The diversity of participants, international scope and recognized importance of the goals of the ICON workshops has generated extensive interest and support from both the research and public policy communities worldwide.
"These workshops demonstrated an impressive commitment to international cooperation and harmonization, especially considering the collective necessity to develop and use standardized materials and reference methods operational at the nanoscale," said Dr. Gérard Rivière, president of the European Committee for Standardization and Research. "Such broad engagement will be vital to addressing nanotechnology's impacts in the future."
Support for this effort was provided by the National Science Foundation under award BES-0646107.
The International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON) is an international, multi-stakeholder organization based at Rice University. Our mission is to develop and communicate information regarding potential environmental and health risks of nanotechnology thereby fostering risk reduction while maximizing societal benefit. The council has evolved into a network of scholars, industrialists, government officials and public interest advocates who share information and perspectives on a broad range of issues at the intersection of nanotechnology and environment, health and safety. We maintain a public portal for information on nanomaterial environment, health and safety (EHS) at the ICON Web site.
The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies was launched in 2005 by the Wilson Center and The Pew Charitable Trusts. It is a partnership dedicated to helping business, governments, and the public anticipate and manage the possible health and environmental implications of nanotechnology.