Ethics of nanotech

  1. I'm wondering because drug delivery and nanotech will be my primary area of research. Right now we have a professor at my school that has made breakthroughs in drug delivery across the mucosa in the lung with nanonparticles. Also, there is hordes of research with regards to DNA/RNA/drug delivery with nanoparticles that almost mimic the behavior of viruses, but since they are synthetic, are evading the immune system.

    Would this be dangerous technology? I mean, it sounds extremely easy to weaponize it. Just package a nefarious strand of DNA/RNA into a nanoparticle delivery system that can easily be delivered into the lungs by inhalation and you could basically have airborne ebola, hanta, or whatever other nefarious piece of DNA you could package into a nanoparticle delivery system. Not only would it be airborne, it would be able to easily evade the body's immune system. So what would stop someone from weaponizing any of the nanoparticle technology that is being heavily researched?
  2. jcsd
  3. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    This isn't technically true, even synthetic compounds are recognised by the body and can induce an immune response. Also a lot of nanoparticle delivery systems are infact biological rather than synthetic such as liposomal delivery systems.

    As for the weaponising this is something that is key to all science. But to be honest in the case of nanomedicine I think there is far more potential benefit than harm, reason being that we don't have adequate medicines for a wealth of conditions but we've had adequate chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction for some time. Why bother going to the trouble of using some advanced and expensive nanoparticle delivery system when you could just easily insert the gene for NDM1 into a particuarly spreadable bacteria and release it on the target population.

    There is nothing that nanomedicine (at least any nanomedicine we have on the drawing board at the moment) gives to biological warfare that we couldn't already do.
  4. bobze

    bobze 651
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Seconded here Ryan. When I read this I thought of positive sense RNA viruses (or even negative ones, you make positive templates for). The spread of said RNA would be infectious and you could do it with an single stranded virus. Far, far easier than going to the trouble of using a new (unproven) expensive technology.
  5. Just to be clear here this particular gene NDM1 . This particular gene gives it the ability to tackle powerful antibiotics in an already infected person . whether this could lead to a pandemic, not very sure. But there are other antibiotics which can be used to tackle these. Only that they are few of them and more expensive .
  6. Examining nanotechnology in the light of ethical decision-making will help us to answer questions such as:
    Do we need to create and enforce global laws for its development?
    How do we minimize potential dangers, such as weaponry uses?
    Is it our duty to share research with other nations?
    How can we ensure that technology is used for the common good?
  7. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    Whilst not global there are regulations that span nations, particularly in the EU. I'm not sure that global law enforcement is actually possible though considering there is no global police force. I'm also not sure what you want these laws to actually be.
    Weapons will, depressingly, always be built. But as I've said elsewhere weapons using nanotechnology will not be any worse than the chemical, biological and nuclear ones that we have already built. Though I do agree that curbing weapons development and use in the world is a valuable goal.
    Depends, which nation are you from and which nation are you talking about? Bare in mind that a lot of research is published in public, peer-reviewed journals that transcend nation barriers.
    There are two routes that spring to mind; funding (from both public and private sources) and regulation to enable worthwhile research to be done.
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