An article published today by Nanowerk says that today’s hefty investments in nanotechnology come with risk.
Nanotech applied to diagnostics has raised hopes that diagnosis will eventually be possible at the cellular and sub-cellular levels. The article says that quantum dots are responsible for taking cellular imaging to a whole new level: “In recent years, scientists have discovered that these nanocrystals can enable researchers to study cell processes at the level of a single molecule. This may significantly improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancers. Fluorescent semiconductor quantum dots are proving to be extremely beneficial for medical applications, such as high-resolution cellular imaging.”
It adds, though, that most of these quantum dots are toxic, and points to an article from the Medical Journal of Australia that says “safety regulation of nanotherapeutics may present unique risk assessment challenges, given the novelty and variety of products, high mobility and reactivity of engineered nanoparticles, and blurring of the diagnostic and therapeutic classifications of ‘medicines’ and ‘medical devices.'”
Despite concerns about safety (and ethics, which the article also addresses), “125 devices or diagnostic tests have entered pre-clinical, clinical, or commercial development since 2005,” says Nanowerk. And “The 2008 budget of the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative provides more than $200 million for the National Institutes of Health.”