Nanotechnology holds great promise for the future of cancer
therapy and water treatment, but concerns about the safety of
nanoproducts may limit these important technological developments,
Vicki Colvin said today in comments to the U.S. House Committee on
Science and Technology.
Colvin, director of Rice University's Center for
Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) and executive
director of the International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON), was an
expert witness at the hearing "Research on Environmental and Safety
Impacts of Nanotechnology." The hearing relates to the current
direction of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI).
Colvin told the committee she was providing her individual
opinions, which have been informed by ICON's work with diverse
international stakeholders on nanotechnology research needs in the
areas of environment, health and safety (EHS). ICON also hosts a free,
searchable database of EHS research papers.
"There is an urgency to nano-EHS research that affects the
entire NNI investment," she said. "Innovation in nanotechnology is
being threatened by the uncertainty about its risks. We need this
innovation more than ever right now."
She called on the National Nanotechnology Initiative to
release a detailed strategy for nano-EHS research no later than fall
"Going from a climate of uncertainty to one of confidence in
managing nanotechnology risk is a massive undertaking that will take
years to fully develop," Colvin said. "It will also take careful
planning and coordination among agencies in this government and abroad.
The ultimate plan would be most effectively organized by two, maybe
three, overarching outcomes that stakeholders agree will give us more
confidence in managing risks."
Colvin emphasized the importance of unifying "researchers'
languages, methods and materials," which she referred to as "research
"If you fund five teams to help understand nanotube toxicity
and they get five different answers, you are actually worse off because
your research creates uncertainty rather than combat it," she said.
Colvin said there is a real need for government intervention.
"If left to ourselves, we might harmonize as a community in
five to 10 years -- too long to wait for nanotechnology's innovation.
The good news is that the U.S. government can, if it is thoughtful
about the mechanisms, help researchers fix this problem quickly and for
relatively low cost."