NanoPundit -Where Society, Science and the Law get really, really small.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

More Studies Needed

In evaluating the danger to humans, the questions to ask are:
(1) will the particle be absorbed or is it respirable?
(2) what is the dosage?
(3) what is the biopersistence of the particle?
(4) what is the physiological effect of the particle on human tissue?

With absolutely no data, I believe that the answer to question one is “yes.” I also believe that the answer to question 2 is “it doesn’t matter.” And by “it doesn’t matter” I mean that any amount of toxicity will be used as a cudgel against the nanoindustry no matter what dosages are required. If rats drown in fullerenes we can expect that to used as a sign of unacceptable risk. How long till we see hippies dressed as buckyballs protesting at World Trade Organization meetings.

The answers for questions 3 and 4 are what really matter and will determine whether nanotechnology is the asbestos of the new millennia.

Asbestos causes induced pulmonary fibrosis and thoracic neoplasms in lungs because it is biopersistent (has a very low dissolution rate constant ‘Kdis’), that is unless the scilia in your lungs can transport the fiber it will be there forever. As far as I know there has been no research on the biopersistence of nanomaterials. I assume that biopersistence is strongly related to structure and chemistry but someone needs to figure this out.

The good folks at Rice University, Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) are hard at work in the salt mines of toxicity studies. Data from a recently released study indicates that surface modification of fullerenes dramatically reduces toxicity. Very interesting.

In my humble opinion toxicity studies and basic science on biopersistence is a niche that the federal government and federally funded university research are ideally suited to fill.

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