- LONDON (Reuters) - British
scientists called on Thursday for more research into the safety of nanoparticles,
materials so small that their dimensions can be measured in atoms, following
evidence they can lodge in the brain.
- Nanotechnology, which could revolutionize the healthcare,
consumer goods and construction industries, has been touted by advocates
as a potential multibillion dollar industry.
- Prophets of doom have painted a nightmare scenario of
self-replicating robots turning the Earth into a "gray goo."
- But Ken Donaldson, Professor of Respiratory Toxicology
at the University of Edinburgh, said the real risk lay in breathing in
designer materials so small that they can slip through membranes inside
- Research on rats has shown nanoparticles deposited in
the nose can migrate to the brain and move from the lungs into the bloodstream,
he told reporters.
- So far, it is unclear whether this poses any health threat
to humans. But Donaldson, who will address a scientific conference next
week on the potential hazards of nanotech at the Daresbury Laboratory research
center in northern England, urges caution.
- "The big worry would be if a nanotechnology business
designs nanoparticles that are fundamentally different from the ones we
are already exposed to and seem to cope with reasonably well," he
- Modern humans breathe in considerable numbers of nanoparticles
on a daily basis in traffic fumes and even from cooking. In some individuals
they can trigger asthma or even cardiovascular problems, by setting off
an inflammatory response from the body's immune system.
- The new materials being developed through nanotechnology
-- which involves manipulating matter on a scale of a billionth of a meter,
or about 80,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair -- might
trigger more severe reactions.
- Mike Horton, professor of Medicine at University College
London and co- director of the new London Center for Nanotechnology, said
scientists were treating the issue "very seriously" and had learned
the lessons of public disquiet over genetic engineering.
- He called for more experiments to establish how nanoparticles
reached the brain and what the impact might be. But he dismissed the idea
of a moratorium on nanotechnology.
- "The impact would be exactly the same as the moratorium
on genetic modification in Germany which wiped out a whole area of biological
science for 30 years. That would be a disaster," he said.