work-related aspects of nanotechnology
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Cecilia Van Cauwenberghe from Frost & Sullivan’s TechVision Group, sheds light on work-related aspects of nanotechnology, including the overall framework to balance the benefits and risks

There is no doubt nanotechnology constitutes one of the most relevant technology disruptions during the past and present century. The physicochemical properties of nanomaterials have been leveraged in a broad spectrum of industries and sectors. Nevertheless, the same properties demand critical care from an occupational point of view.

In a previous article, the risks associated with the typical exposure to nanomaterials in the workplace were highlighted (Van Cauwenberghe, 2019) as strongly related to a wide range of both acute and chronic effects, including inflammation, asthma, cystic fibrosis, lung diseases and cancer, especially emphasising on neurotoxicity, due to inhaled nanoparticles penetrating inside the olfactory mucosa that translocate in the central nervous system.

This article intends to open up the discussion about the role and interaction of researchers and manufacturers, as well as policymakers and insurers to manage risks associated with the use of nanotechnology.

Substantial investigations identifying all variables and parameters of risk

An investigation carried out by the Section of Occupational Medicine, Department of Public Health, University of Naples Federico II, along with the Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Epidemiology and Hygiene, Italian Workers’ Compensation Authority (INAIL), deeply details the occupational health concerns and safety risks potentially derived from nanoscale biomedical applications (Leso et al., 2019). In particular, this study focuses on the risks associated with nanotherapeutics and drug delivery systems, medical imaging agents and tissue engineering. Nanocrystals, drug-free nanoparticles, inorganic and metallic nanoparticles, polymeric drugs, liposomes and micelles are mentioned.

According to the investigators, laboratory workers involved in the research, synthesis, preparation, delivery and management of biomedical nanotech-based products – from the lab to clinical pharmacies – are all exposed to nanomaterials related occupational health risks. From the researchers to patients, physicians, pharmacists, dentists, nurses, as well as personnel involved in shipping, receiving and maintenance may also come into contact with nanomaterials while handling items.

Furthermore, disposal of excreta from patients receiving nanomedicines, cleaning equipment, use and spill of nano-enabled contrast agents, need to be taken into consideration in the development of safety headlines intending to address risk management. The effects of the toxicity of nanomaterials on the human body and surrounding biosystems depend on the nature, particle size, shape, substituents, and coatings of nanoparticles (Nasrollahzadeh and Sajadi, 2019).

Valuable actions advising emerging technology companies

The Worcester Polytechnic Institute performed an in-depth assessment regarding the perceptions that advanced technology companies and researchers have regarding emerging technologies, with a focus on nanotechnology, with regard to risk management for TEMAS AG, a Swiss management consultancy focused on advanced technology. Part of the study consisted of interviews with advanced technology companies and nanotechnology researchers, to really catch the essence of the work with nanotechnology. According to the investigators, as a modern technology, nanotechnology has risks. The science dilemma appears in the awareness of these technologies cannot improve without assuming a certain level of risk (Macorri et al., 1019).

In the near future, for instance, breakthrough transformations may occur as a result of molecular production, an advanced form of nanotechnology. Another of the key aspects identified in the study was the lack of involvement from insurance companies inadequately covering nanotechnologies and other emerging risks. The balance between the benefit of a certain nanotech-based product and the level of risk involved needs to be considered in the equation. On that note, policymakers play a fundamental role in guaranteeing an optimistic future for nanotechnology by maximising benefits and minimising risks (Kosal, 2019).

Decisions on the adoption of advanced technological innovation

Decisions on the adoption of advanced technological innovation are seriously difficult for manufacturers. This aspect becomes more essential for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). These companies significantly drive product development; however, they have limited resources. Sometimes, these limitations make challenging the path to address safety issues. It is important to highlight the role of decision analytic methods applied to regulatory issues in the nanotechnology sector. Although prospective, these tools are poorly developed until now. Researchers emphasise in the value of information (VoI) as a decision analytic tool to facilitate decision-making procedures in nanotechnology manufacturing (Zabeo et al., 2019).

Final remarks

As the production of nanomaterials increases worldwide, safety issues related to toxicity and health risks of nanotechnology have gained increased attention from toxicologists and regulatory scientists. The relevancy of this awareness has foundation on that fact that nanomaterials are connected to all aspects of human life. Next steps will demand a profound commitment of researchers, manufacturers, policymakers and health insurers to guarantee successful management of risks associated with the use of nanotechnology.

Laser ablation in liquid environment technique (LALE)

You might like to read a previous article form Cecilia Van Cauwenberghe, that focuses on nanomaterials, looking at the challenges and opportunities around the laser ablation in liquid environment (LALE) technique. In this article, we find out that LALE is a “straightforward technique to build a broad spectrum of nanostructured materials or nanomaterials” and that it “constitutes the most efficient and straightforward technique to create nanostructured materials in a safe and effective manner for both human health” and the environment.

You can learn more on the LALE technique in another insightful article from Cecilia Van Cauwenberghe. Here, we learn that potential applications of the LALE technique include antimicrobial coatings to prevent infections and that pulsed laser ablation in the LALE technique “has exhibited a variety of advantages over conventional chemical synthesis methods.”


Further reading
Kosal, M.E., 2019. The threats from nanotechnology. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 75(6), pp.290-294.
Leso, V., Fontana, L. and Iavicoli, I., 2019. Biomedical nanotechnology: Occupational views. Nano Today, 24, pp.10-14.
Li, X., 2019. Emerging technologies, emerging knowledge: intentions to seek and share information on social media about the risks and bene- fits of nanotechnology (Doctoral dissertation).
Macorri, E., MacInnis, L.J., Connor Recio, M.A. and Lepage, T.J., 2019. Nanotechnology: Perceived Risks and Risk Management. Nasrollahzadeh, M. and Sajadi, S.M., 2019. Risks of Nanotechnology to Human Life. In Interface Science and Technology (Vol. 28, pp. 323-336). Elsevier.
Van Cauwenberghe, 2019. Open Access Government October 2019. Zabeo, A., Keisler, J.M., Hristozov, D., Marcomini, A. and Linkov, I., 2019. Value of information analysis for assessing risks and benefits of nan- otechnology innovation. Environmental Sciences Europe, 31(1), p.11.

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PhD, MSc, BA Associate Fellow and Industry Principal
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