Those who are interested in nanotech and toxicity, or want to know what measures the U.S. government is taking to ensure the safety of nanomaterials being proposed for pharmaceuticals, might want to subscribe to this new publication by the Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory (NCL).
The NCL was created as a resource for all private-sector nanotech cancer researchers to help them transition their concepts to clinical applications and to facilitate contact with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
I spoke a little while ago with NCL Director Scott McNeil. I caught him just as he was taking a break during a conference on nanotoxicity. McNeil said he found it "remarkable" that, outside the media spotlight, groups like Environmental Defense and government agencies were able to meet and do more than just argue.
The NCL was created only a year ago, and one of the first issues it is working on, McNeil said, is the need for similar characterization methods and standards. Let's make sure that scientists at Stanford and MIT, for example, can compare results by speaking the same language.
I couldn't tell you what the different measurement standards are, but I can imagine it might be about as confusing as when I drive through Canada to get from Detroit to upstate New York. Paying Canadian dollars to buy "imperial gallons" of gas leaves me wondering exactly how much the darn transaction really cost me.
Another area where there is a "critical lack of understanding," McNeil said, is in structure/activity relationships. For example, what makes a drug-delivering molecule like a dendrimer more or less toxic? Is it size alone? What about when scientists monkey around with the surface charge? What happens in various size/surface charge combinations with different types of nanomaterials?
To put it even more simply: When you read in your local newspaper about how scientists are unsure about all these "strange new properties" that exist at the nanoscale and that's what scares the bejeezus out of everybody, remember that it's not only about the size of your particle, baby. It's how you charge it. And don't believe the claim that the U.S. government is not doing anything to figure this stuff out.
The NCL. Don't launch a nanotech initiative without one.