I have been telling my students that way back in the 1960’s, there were television series and magazine articles that tried to predict the future. Their aim was not very good. What has come to be was not predictable, what was predicted has not come to be. Reading the future whether by ancient Mayan calendars or scientific speculation is not a matter of certainty. One unpredictable development is that of nanoparticles. Nanoparticles offer often bizarre science fiction like capabilities to many fields in particular medicine.
This is from Science Daily –
Now, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis report that they have designed nanoparticles that find clots and make them visible to a new kind of X-ray technology.
According to Gregory Lanza, MD, PhD, a Washington University cardiologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, these nanoparticles will take the guesswork out of deciding whether a person coming to the hospital with chest pain is actually having a heart attack.
“Every year, millions of people come to the emergency room with chest pain. For some of them, we know it’s not their heart. But for most, we’re not sure,” says Lanza, a professor of medicine. When there is any doubt, the patient must be admitted to the hospital and undergo tests to rule out or confirm a heart attack.
“Those tests cost money and they take time,” Lanza says.
Rather than an overnight stay to make sure the patient is stable, this new technology could reveal the location of a blood clot in a matter of hours.
This is a positive development. But there should be caution in these developments as well.
At present, there is no routine method for measuring nanoparticles in a soil or water sample. Accordingly, few data are available on the presence of nanoparticles in these two matrices, and knowledge on the fate of nanoparticles in the environment is therefore limited. For the same reasons, it is also difficult to study the effectiveness of current drinking and waste water treatments to eliminate nanoparticles, and it is subsequently hard to estimate population exposure to such particles through water.
One of the prerequisites to the improvement of knowledge needed to assess the risks of nanoparticle presence in water is therefore the development of data acquisition tools.
More bluntly, if nanoparticles get in the water or soil, we can’t detect them and we don’t have any idea what to do if we do detect them.
That’s a substantial downside.
The French Agency recommends tough regulation –
Given this context, the Agency stresses the need to set up a system for listing and controlling the marketing of all products containing nanoparticles.
There is always going to be the question whether or not we are rushing into a technology that has the potential for enormous destruction.
I can point out based on my experience in the field of business ethics, that when confronted by the opportunity to make billions of dollars, safety concerns shrink in importance.
There is a great deal of opposition based on ideological grounds. But is it wish to allow private companies with financial stakes in positive outcomes to determine acceptable risks? There are not only many accounts of businesses that developed products without proper testing. There are accounts of businesses that when informed of serious problems closed their eyes to the danger. And lastly, there are literally thousands of cases where dangerous substances were casually dumped in the water, soil or air.
I believe regulation is necessary.