Defining Nano, Nanotechnology and Nanomedicine: Why Should It Matter?

Science and Engineering Ethics 22 (5):1255-1276 (2016)
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Nanotechnology, which involves manipulation of matter on a ‘nano’ scale, is considered to be a key enabling technology. Medical applications of nanotechnology are expected to significantly improve disease diagnostic and therapeutic modalities and subsequently reduce health care costs. However, there is no consensus on the definition of nanotechnology or nanomedicine, and this stems from the underlying debate on defining ‘nano’. This paper aims to present the diversity in the definition of nanomedicine and its impact on the translation of basic science research in nanotechnology into clinical applications. We present the insights obtained from exploratory qualitative interviews with 46 stakeholders involved in translational nanomedicine from Europe and North America. The definition of nanomedicine has implications for many aspects of translational research including: fund allocation, patents, drug regulatory review processes and approvals, ethical review processes, clinical trials and public acceptance. Given the interdisciplinary nature of the field and common interest in developing effective clinical applications, it is important to have honest and transparent communication about nanomedicine, its benefits and potential harm. A clear and consistent definition of nanomedicine would significantly facilitate trust among various stakeholders including the general public while minimizing the risk of miscommunication and undue fear of nanotechnology and nanomedicine.



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David M. Shaw
University of Basel