Gulf between rich, poor will grow if high-profile nanotechnology opponents prevail: ethics experts

The chasm between have and have-not countries will grow even wider if nanotechnology research is upended by the unbalanced positions of high-profile opponents like Prince Charles, warns a new analysis from a leading global medical ethics think-tank.

Nanotechnology is the building of working devices, systems and materials molecule by molecule by manipulating matter measured in billionths of a meter. The research seeks to exploit the unique and powerful electrical, physical and chemical properties found at an infinitesimally small scale.

While legitimate risks and issues have been flagged, they can and should be addressed without a crippling moratorium being called for on budding research that promises vast improvement in the lives of five billion people in developing countries, according to medical ethics experts at the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics.

In an article to be published by the Institute of Physics' journal "Nanotechnology," and released Wednesday, Jan. 28 online at Nanotechweb.org, the JCB authors say the potential health, environmental and economic benefits for developing countries of nanotechnology (NT) include:

  • Improved detection of cancer and HIV/AIDS by tagging biological molecules with nanometer-sized markers, avoiding in the process many drawbacks associated with organic dyes conventionally used to mark cells;

  • Improved detection of tuberculosis with quantum dot optical biosensors. Development plans for a nanotech-based diagnostic kit to reduce the cost, time and the amount of blood required for TB tests was recently announced in India;

  • Inexpensive miniaturized medical diagnostic devices easily used in remote regions;

  • More effective delivery of drugs and vaccines packaged in nano-particles, allowing more precise targeting to areas of the body where medications are needed, thereby producing stronger respon

Contact: Terry Collins
International Institute for Sustainable Development

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