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FDA Gets Mixed Advice on Nanotechnology 54

Posted by samzenpus
from the better-living-through-small-machines dept.
mikesd81 writes, "There's an article at the Associated Press about how the government must balance close oversight of the fast-growing field of nanotechnology against the risk of stifling new development. Contrasting view came from a panel of experts brought together to discuss how nanotechnology should be regulated. The article states that submicroscopic particles are being incorporated in the thousands of products overseen by the FDA, including drugs, foods, cosmetics and medical devices and the products consist of roughly 20% of each dollar spent by U.S. consumers. Matthew Jaffe of the U.S. Council of International Business says, "The key is to use science to weigh both the benefits and the risks of nanotechnology. That's a balance the FDA already seeks to strike in assessing other products." From the article: "'The success of nanotechnology will rely in large part on how FDA plays its regulatory role,' said Michael Taylor of the University of Maryland's School of Public Health. The FDA doesn't believe nanotechnology is inherently unsafe, but does acknowledge that materials at the nano scale can pose different safety issues than do things that are far larger. 'The FDA wants to learn of new and emerging science issues related to nanotechnology, especially in regard to safety,' said Randall Lutter, the agency's associate commissioner."
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FDA Gets Mixed Advice on Nanotechnology

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  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @10:43PM (#16403493) Homepage

    This business of calling surface chemistry of finely divided powders "nanotechnology" is a bit much.

    • A bit much (Score:5, Funny)

      by TubeSteak (669689) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @11:48PM (#16403947) Journal
      Even more so is when you get past the marketing-speak and read their literature, only to discover that some products being pushed aren't nano-anything.

      nano = 1x10^-9
      micro = 1X10^-6

      A surprising number of companies try to sex up their micron technology with the prefix nano.
      • by MrSteveSD (801820)
        Drexler really pioneered the whole idea of nanotechnology yet he has been sidelined and the term has has now be hijacked by people who want to funnel money into their own companies.
    • by Morgaine (4316) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @06:46AM (#16405843)
      >> This business of calling surface chemistry of finely divided powders "nanotechnology" is a bit much.

      That's very true. I'll stick with the definitions given by the founder of the field (ie. Drexler), as it's less subject to commercial and political manipulation. Much of the defining material is freely available online, for anyone who wants their information from the horse's mouth.

      First of all there's the online version of Eric Drexler's extremely seminal Engines of Creation [e-drexler.com]. It's a fantastic read, even after all these years.

      (The online version of EoC used to be maintained at the Foresight Institute, but it's now kept by Drexler himself above. His whole site is a great resource of course, so clear out the tail of the URL and have a look around.)

      Then there's the online version of the popular Unbounding the Future [foresight.org], an easily readable and slightly updated introduction to nanotechnology for everyone, although somehow I find it lacks the charm of Engines of Creation.

      But nothing beats his textbook Nanosystems [amazon.com] though. This book is a 150% must-have for anyone with a strong interest in nanotechnology, because even if you cannot follow the detailed science and mathematics, the diagrams and tables alone justify the cost.

      Unfortunately the online version of Nanosystems [foresight.org] is still at a very early stage, and is not really useful except as an online table of contents. Buy the textbook, you won't regret it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Having reviewed federal proposals in this area and knowing someone from the FDA advisory committee I can say that I don't see a huge push back on the scientific level of the use of the term nanotechnology in place of surface chemistry. Not only are the majority of uses for surface chemistry, but they also seem to be for Fe or TiO2 surface chemistry (the latter requiring some form of UV activation). To be brief there is simply money to be made from the product, but more depressing is that the scientific rese
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by andywills (306560)
      Well, fine. Call it what you want. Did you know that the zinc oxide nanoparticles in sunscreen produce free radicals when they absorb UV light? That's something that the old white sunscreens (that used zinc oxide microparticles) didn't do. That's the general problem with nanotech--the same material can be inert or toxic depending on its size, method of preparation, etc. The FDA is currently set up to deal with distinct molecules, and they have to decide when a nanotech product counts as a "distinct molecule
  • too broad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @10:52PM (#16403549) Homepage
    The term "nanotechnology" is much too broad. Let's use "nanoscale materials" for this sort of thing, and "nanomechanics" for what all us /.'ers think when we hear "nanotechnology".
    • by QuantumG (50515)
      Molecular Manufacturing is the term I've heard bantered around to mean any nanotechnology that includes assemblers.
      • Call it "nano-inteligent design". That may give it a better chance than "stem cell research" had.
        • by QuantumG (50515)
          ironically, the religious right are only happy for super-intelligences to design life.
          • by hcob$ (766699)
            ironically, the religious right are only happy for super-intelligences to design life.
            *hands Quantum a Special Broom*

            Next time you want to make one of "those" generalilzations, I recommend you use this broom.
    • 'The FDA wants to learn of new and emerging science issues related to nanotechnology, especially in regard to safety,'

      The FDA could make it mandatory to read /.

      "Slowly, one by one, the penguins steal my sanity." - Unknown
  • What worries is me (Score:3, Interesting)

    by XNine (1009883) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @11:00PM (#16403607)
    IS how the tech is going to be implemented. How will the nano-machines know what to do? Through wireless signals? It sounds like a very insecure method to command the little things. Sure, they could potentially be used for extremely great things. But the risk is great too. Same they're killing cancer cells in some kids body. What happens if someone were able to reprogram them to kill other cells? Maybe I'm crazy, but I think the FDA and the developers/engineers REALLY need to have a good system in place for this before it ever takes off.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      None of this will be relevant for decades. Nanotech today (except for these surface chemistry guys) amounts to nothing more than glorified MEMS (i.e., dirty CMOS) processing. These nanomachines you worry about are a long way off.
    • by megaditto (982598)
      How do cells in your body know "what to do"? How do viruses know which cells to kill? All the future nanotechnology research will be built upon what biologists already know today about things such as bacteriophages, flagella, ribosomes, etc. These have worked for billions of years rather well.

      Check out a pic of a nanometer-scale killing machine [wikipedia.org] biologists can make at whim :)
      Use of these has been approved by the FDA!
    • by Harmonious Botch (921977) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @11:36PM (#16403867) Homepage Journal
      "IS how the tech is going to be implemented. How will the nano-machines know what to do?"

      They will run Windows Nano. When it crashes, you will turn blue.
      • They will run Windows Nano. When it crashes, you will turn blue.

        Yeah, and it'll be so bloated you'll need a microprocessor to run it.

    • by SinGunner (911891)
      How did this get modded "interesting"? Who here actually thinks "nano-machines" are "machines" as we know them? Don't worry kiddo, those nano-machines will get nano-norton installed on the right quick and then you'll just have to nano-update it every few nano-weeks.

      "Commanding" "nano-machines"... Now I've heard everything.
    • Already we have turned all of our critical industries, all of our material resources, over to these .. things .. these lumps of silver and paste we call nanorobots. And now we propose to teach them intelligence? What, pray tell, will we do when these little homunculi awaken one day and announce that they have no further need of us?
  • I wonder if we'll see an actual assembler in my lifetime. Even a hydrocarbon only assembler seems unlikely.

    • by TheSHAD0W (258774)
      One can only hope. We have most of the technology to build one; all that's left is some way to hold the atoms that are moved into position in place until the structure is complete, and, of course, a good science of how atoms interact at such a scale.
      • and, of course, a good science of how atoms interact at such a scale.

        it's called quantum mechanics. The obstacles in nanotechnology are mostly engineering ones rather than basic science.

    • Depends on what your willing to call an assembler.. For the most part molecular biology is able to make some pretty small stuff. So with some enzymes glucose and UTP can be used to polymerize into glycogen chains, the mix of branching enzymes can change the structure. Glucose could also polymerize into cellulose with alternate enzymes. These are reasonably workable in a vat.. whereas with Genetic Tampering you can manage to make a goat that has spider silk protein in her milk. (skip that goat cheese piz
  • Note (Score:4, Interesting)

    by maynard (3337) <j@maynard@gelinas.gmail@com> on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @11:15PM (#16403703) Journal
    The FDA is only concerned with nanotechnology that would be eaten, injected, used internally, or otherwise ingested. I don't believe they would have regulatory authority over nano-assembler use in manufacturing or environmental dumping. The EPA could possibly set regulations on the environmental aspects, and OSHA might be able to deal with the worker safety aspect of nantech used in manufacturing.

    BTW: when does ordinary chip lithography become nanotech? I mean, isn't 45nm chip fab just around the corner? A good question to ask is whether regulating all nanotechnology makes sense, or if it is better handled by each respective regulatory agency. I would argue that too much centralization is probably a bad thing. Best to break the problem up and hand it out to the specialists within each field.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I preface this by saying that I *actually* know quite a bit about this, knowing a number of the people involved with the proposal to the FDA. I'm also, well, a nanotechnologist in every sense of the word you could possibly think of, and know lots of people involved in startups centered around nanomaterials.

      There are several interesting issues. The first is that nanotechnology is an absurdly easy field to get into. For instance, if you wanted to be a "nanotechnologist", all you need is a bottle of ferric chl
      • by maynard (3337)
        What an amazing reply! Thank you so much for offering your insider's perspective!
    • by suntac (252438)
      "The FDA is only concerned with nanotechnology that would be eaten, injected, used internally, or otherwise ingested. I don't believe they would have regulatory authority over nano-assembler use in manufacturing or environmental dumping. The EPA could possibly set regulations on the environmental aspects, and OSHA might be able to deal with the worker safety aspect of nantech used in manufacturing."

      It is a good thing they keep a close look at anything that is ingested. However they should also keep a close
  • Post nano11 world (Score:3, Insightful)

    by From A Far Away Land (930780) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @11:15PM (#16403707) Homepage Journal
    In a world where the EPA let firefighters clean up toxic carcinogenic nano-particle riddled debris after the WTC towers left smashed asbestos dust on all surfaces, I really don't trust the FDA with my life. Government will do what is expedient, not what is in the best interest of health based on scientific or even logical reasoning.
    • by ocelotbob (173602)
      Perhaps it's just a different philosophy of life, but I'd rather die young due to a technological advance gone awry than live until I'm 80 in some stagnant cesspool because people are too risk-adverse to allow change.
    • by RexRhino (769423)
      You don't trust the FDA with your life? The Government will do what is expedient and not what is in the best interest of health? Couldn't agree with you more! Dictatorships never work. Lets abolish the FDA, and let people get information from a whole variety of different sources, and let them make personal health decisions themselves!
  • 20% of my spending is for FDA regulated products? Hell NO!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by brusk (135896)
      1. You eat, presumably? Maybe drink? That's the FDA's bailiwick. Spending on food is ~13% of household income in the US (http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2006/may/wk4/art05.ht m [bls.gov])
      2. You're not an old person, probably, so you don't take lots of drugs. But many do.
      3. You're not a drug addict, probably, so you don't take lots of drugs. But many do.
      Add up the above and you easily get 20%.
      • I fear that you may have misread TFA, or misread GP. The question is not what percentage of spending is under the jurisdiction of the FDA, it is what percentage of spending is under the jurisdiction of the FDA and is nanotech ( or at least claimed to be ). I think GP has a fair question.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by ChaosWeevil (1004221)
      How much do you spend on food/medications?

      I think the amount might be higher than you think.
  • by Lord Ender (156273)
    Since when did the FDA have anything to do with materials science? I thought they were about drugs and food.
    • by mikesd81 (518581)
      Well imagine it used for diseases such as cancer? It could turn into a surgical tehnique of some sort.
  • by DoubleRing (908390) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @11:46PM (#16403939)
    It's not like we haven't been exposed to nanoparticles all the time. Just set a stick on fire. Right before your eyes, thousands of nanoparticles are being created. If you examined the soot, you'd find buckyballs and tubes. And when you smell smoke, OMG, you're inhaling nanoparticles! Plus, your body even has the ability to deal with self-replicating invasive nanoparticles (technically they are not "alive).

    Well, I guess we shouldn't go barreling blindly though, we don't want another asbestos.
    • It's not exactly paranoid here. It's a well reasoned and cautious approach that we haven't tested these new nano-particles as food additives, drugs, etc. If they didn't behave any different from the much larger sized particles, then why are companies interested in them?

      There's nothing inherently dangerous about nano-particles, just like there's nothing inherently dangerous about chemicals. It's simply the fact that nano-scale implementations of old substances haven't been tested, and behave differently.
  • by cy_a253 (713262) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @12:03AM (#16404057)
    This is a great all-around introduction to real "nanotech", it's the entire book online, for free.

    http://www.foresight.org/UTF/Unbound_LBW/index.htm l [foresight.org]
  • by creimer (824291) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @12:27AM (#16404221) Homepage
    All the FDA has to do is watch Star Trek to understand that nanotechnology is very bad for humans.
  • Nanotech Nonsense (Score:3, Informative)

    by Alchemist253 (992849) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @12:50AM (#16404355)
    As I have repeatedly said before, the whole "nanotech" craze is a bunch of marketing baloney.

    Know how long a typical C-C bond in an organic molecule is? Hint: try wikipedia [wikipedia.org]. It doesn't take very many atoms to make a single molecule a "nanoparticle!"

    My fellow chemists and I have been doing nanotech for years - that is what the FDA has spent all its existence reviewing! I have the utmost respect for those working on new engineered materials, etc., and am perfectly willing to let them call themselves "nanoengineers" instead of the older "material scientists" if it helps them get elusive grant money, but we can't start regulating gold nanoparticles or quantum dots any differently than we would, say, cisplatin [wikipedia.org].

    There simply isn't any fundamentally different science going on in nanotechnology that isn't already present (albeit perhaps in a previously esoteric realm) in chemistry, materials science, or solid-state physics.
    • by belg4mit (152620)
      Exactly, marketing. You argue that there's nothing fundamentally different in the science
      (declaring oct-1,3,5-triene a nanomaterial), but it would seem to me there is. There is a
      difference between small and medium organic compounds and nanoparticles of "metals"*,
      "ceramics", etc. 1) Obviously there is a difference in properties between nano and bulk,
      otherwise there would not be interest in studying them. 2) Their biological activity is
      incredibly different. Compare bulk quartz to the dust which causes silicos
  • I, for one, welcome our new nano-enhanced overlords.

    Well, SOMEONE had to say it.
    • by denebola (868771)
      I, for one, welcome our new nano-enhanced overlords.

      Rings too true for me.

      I'd rather a 'softly, softly' approach with nanotech.
  • Others have pointed out the intentional messing up of definitions of "Nanotechnology" to suit the vested interests, so I won't address that. Suffice to say that any current or envisaged regulation concerns only nanoscale materials, and not molecular nanotechnology (MNT) which is the original "Nanotechnology" as defined by Drexler.

    What I will address is regulation of MNT (once it exists). In a nutshell, you can't.

    The basic reason is simple: MNT will be a kitchen sink manufacturing technology (ie. do it at
    • ... the only way in which MNT could be regulated is by flooding the world with even more nanomachines to monitor everything that is going on --- in other words, a fully invasive world police state

      This was discussed even in the very early days of nanotech theorizing. It was called the "Blue Goo" scenario - one of the possible ways of heading off the "Grey Goo" scenario.

      The latter is where unbounded replicators get out of hand, turn EVERYTHING into more of themselves. Potentially a few get picked up by sola
  • by Deliveranc3 (629997) <deliverance@ l e v e l 4 . org> on Thursday October 12, 2006 @09:14AM (#16407011) Journal
    1. Nanobots will not recycle your tissue to create more Nano bots.

    2. We reserve the right to change this agreement at any time.

Entropy requires no maintenance. -- Markoff Chaney

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