ICON launches global research needs assessment

With commentators comparing the nanotech research efforts of various countries, and others criticising government agencies for complacency, the International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON) has launched a global research needs assessment.

International Assessment of Nanotechnology Environment, Health and Safety Research Needs

Last year ICON brought together more than 70 experts from 13 countries, and convened two workshops aimed at defining a set of research needs for assessing the potential impact of engineered nanomaterials on health and the environment. The results of the workshop deliberations have now been published in the form of a detailed report which focuses on the areas of nanomaterials characterisation and the prediction of nano-biointeractions.

“This represents the first effort to tackle the grand challenge of predicting nanomaterial impacts on human health and the environment,” says ICON director Kristen Kulinowski. “How to develop tools for predicting nanomaterial impacts is the right question to ask and this is the right time to ask it. Nanomaterials are simply too diverse to rely on case-by-case assessments of impact.”

The ICON workshops resulted in a list of near-, mid- and long-term priorities, and contributing experts identified 26 specific types of research required to meet the goals of the exercise. All of the areas highlighted will contribute to the 10-year goal of the assessment effort – referred to to as the “grand challenge” – to produce computational models for predicting nano-biointeractions.

ICON’s assessment has been published at the same time as an analysis by the Washington DC-based Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) which shows that Europe spends nearly twice as much as the US on nanotech risk research.

How significant is this funding differential? “I know the European nano community aren’t that happy with the funding situation,” says PEN’s chief scientist Andrew Maynard. “They feel there is still not enough money, and it isn’t necessarily going to the right places. But without some measure of impact, funding levels are pretty meaningless.”

Further reading: “International Assessment of Nanotechnology Environment, Health and Safety Research Needs”, International Council on Nanotechnology, May 2008.

Article first published in Nanomaterials News.