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Sunday, 19 August 2012

A World Without Nanotoxicity

Proposal of solutions and directions to combat and prevention of nanotoxicity and nanopollution.


Following my article "The Roots of Nano-Fear Decoded", I have addressed briefly some aspects of nanotoxicity and nanotoxicology in four articles:

I start here an attempt to point out ways and propose solutions which I believe will help to combat and prevent effectively nanotoxicity (and nanopollution).


From the strategy perspective, I identify three major groups of actions to combat and prevent effectively nanotoxicity:

  1. Strategic planning of actions to be implemented immediately or ASAP; 
  2. Preventive actions against the increase in nantoxicity; 
  3. Actions to combat the already existing nanotoxicity or to minimize the current levels of nanotoxicity down to levels without risk. 

This approach through three points is somehow similar to the three points approach I presented in my article "Fighting & Preventing Nanopollution". Obviously, the details differ.

Concerning to point one, it is far too obvious: if simple actions often require strategic planning, when we have to face 
highly complex actions such as fighting and preventing nanotoxicity and nanopollution, strategic planning becomes vital and indispensable.

With respect to points two and three, I should add that it is (at least to me), difficult to handle them separately: fighting and prevention. There is an extremely complex chain of actions that must be implemented (after being the subject of an effective strategic planning, of course). The need for effective actions is so huge that in practice most of actions can be implemented for preventive purposes and at the same time taken (and adapted) to combat nanotoxicity that already exists (or to minimize the current levels nanotoxicity down to levels without a significant risk).

I also believe that it is simply impossible to implement points two and three in a sequence. It simply makes no sense and would be disastrous. Thus, these two points must be applied simultaneously in a coordinated, interconnected, integrated, without losing sight of combating and preventing nanopollution.

Strategic Planning of Actions to be Implemented Immediately or ASAP

A strategic planning of actions to be implemented immediately or ASAP requires, at least, the following issues (not necessarily by this order):
  • Integration with nanopollution. To be more precise, integration with the fight against nanopollution and its prevention. These two issues are so inextricably interconnected that an effective combat and prevention presupposes necessarily take into account these two aspects - nanotoxicity and nanopollution;
  • An urgent debate, serious, extensive, intensive, constructive, optimistic (and integrated with nanopollution). This debate must be conducted under the auspices of the collaboration with the aim of building a better world for us All. We live in times of reinventing everything. Moreover, the issue of nanotoxicity is relatively emerging in time. On the other side yet, our society has been conditioned by a formatted thinking. This formatted thinking has conditioned and atrophied the development of new ideas. The highly qualified specialists have to develop this debate with their spirit free of limiting concepts and wide open to new ideas and innovation in its purest essence. Therefore, the approach to combat the toxicity will require new ideas, new concepts, new practices, new perspectives and ways of seeing things from the scientific, technological and social perspectives. A debate with the participation of actors from different fields of knowledge, under the auspices of a constructive atmosphere, may have the potential to generate an effective strategic planning;
  • Prioritizing: Establishing levels of priorities. More specifically, the establishment of priorities in the context of a complex chain of processes and actions to be implemented in steps. Although much valuable work has been done, much more needs to be done. This applies not only to combat but also to prevention. An intelligent scheduling of priorities is essential. If the scheduling of priorities fails, the combat and prevention will not progress and chaos will dominate the situation. The scheduling of priorities also involves the definition of population groups at high risk, medium risk and low risk.
  • Regulation. As far as I know, regulation regarding nanotoxicology and nanopollution is already underway. It is, however, absolutely necessary to proceed with this work. Regulation is, among other things, a legal instrument. It is necessary to strengthen regulation, speed it up, and get an international engagement and consensus.

Preventive Actions Against The Increase in Nanotoxicity And Actions to Combat The Nanotoxicity That Already Exists or to Minimize The Current Levels of Nanotoxicity Down to Levels Without Significant Risk

Preventive measures and actions to combat nanotoxicity require, at least, the following issues (not necessarily by this order):
  • The creation and dissemination of appropriate awareness and an entire culture and mindset of best practices, always under the auspices of absolute transparency, the highest sense of responsibility and aiming to build a better world for us ALL. All people (actors and civil society) must be clearly informed, using an accessible language, through positive, constructive, informative, transparent and optimistic campaigns. Media campaigns should be carefully planned and created, targeting different audiences, using different languages​​, always appropriate for the target audiences;
  • Practices related to risk. Similarly to combat and prevent pollution, practices related to risk necessarily involve the following three aspects (among many others): risk monitoring, risk detection and risk assessment. My proposal goes to the creation of a network of screening centres - operating at full sync and collaboration among themselves and with the nanopollution observatories (as I proposed on my article Fighting & Preventing Nanopollution). Again, I do not mean "a network watchdogs". Rather, I refer to screening centres operated by highly qualified professionals, equipped with sophisticated computer technology, databases. I mean screening centres receiving constantly reported data from R&D facilities (academic and industry) as new discovered, engineered or already known nanosized molecular structures are nanofabricated, engineered or employed. These screening centres will not operate in real-time. However, if the operations are well planned and implemented, the delay between the input of data and the event time will be short. In other words, these screening centres will not operate in real-time; however, will operate in a quasi-real-time mode. This modus operandi, as I describe here, will allow the ability to send automatic warnings (or alerts) to the operating teams. The automatic warnings (or alerts) may be scaled in warning (or alert) levels, linked to pre-established protocols of measures to be triggered accordingly. Still with respect to the practices related to risk, I propose the following:
    • Standardization of a list of consensual known indicators of nanotoxicity in order to allow routine practices of research, monitoring, risk assessment, risk evaluation;
    • Establishment of a system of databases comprising the following information:
      • Nanosized molecular structures reported as nanotoxic;
      • The respective several levels (or degrees) of nanotoxicity for specific conditions;
      • All known data regarding characterization of these nanosized molecular structures;
      • Known routes of entrance into the body;
      • Known effects caused in the body;
      • Known measures to minimize those nanotoxic effects;
      • Known possible cumulative effects and how, where, when, how long, etc.;
      • Known forms of excretion by the body to the outside;
      • Known possible consequences at the level of nanopollution;
      • Known possible consumer goods containing at least one of these nanosized molecular structures;
      • All known bibliographic references of published material regarding each item described above and free access permission granted to highly qualified and duly authorized staff;
      • Permanent update with new reported information.
  • R&D. Once again, as I stated in my article Fighting & Preventing Nanopollution, since nanotoxicology is closely related to nanopollution, will be very useful that R&D covers the two aspects. Follow some aspects I consider important, among many others:
    • Intensive studies on computational simulation and behaviour prediction. Every time a nanosized molecular structure is planned to be produced, nanofabricated, nanoengineered or somehow modified in a facility (academia or industry), prior exhaustive studies on computational simulation and behaviour prediction must be carried out. The reports of the studies must be evaluated by a screening centre having into account the eventual potential risks in terms of nanotoxicity and nanopollution. Depending on the results reported, only then the process of production, nanofabrication, nanoengineering or other modification can be carried out. The screening centres must have legitimate authority (under international consensus) to approve or disapprove the continuation of processes (the passage to the processes of production, nanofabrication, nanoengineering or other modification). We have excellent qualified bioinformaticians, cheminformaticians and computer biologists all over the world. There are excellent industries dedicated to the industry of bioinformatics, cheminformatics and computer biology. These industries must be encouraged and supported to develop intensive R&D in order to release software tools oriented to these purposes;
    • Intensive studies on nanocharacterization, nanotoxicology and nanopollution. Every time a nanosized molecular structure is produced, nanofabricated, nanoengineered or somehow modified, exhaustive studies on nanocharacterization, nanotoxicology and nanopollution must be carried out;
    • Verification of traceability. Much R&D is required as well as a whole platform of collaborative organizations and individuals in order to implement an effective verification of traceability of the nanosized molecular structures which are reported as nanotoxic and nanopollutant. This means two aspects:
      • Verification of traceability (inside the body) of the nanosized molecular structures which are reported as nanotoxic (carried out by the screening centres I proposed);
      • Verification of traceability (into the environment) of the nanosized molecular structures which are reported as nanopollutant (carried out by the nanopollution observatories I proposed);
    • R&D of key-technologies to fight effectively, in a clean and safe way the nanotoxicity.
  • Regulation. Again, I believe that regulation has a role here which is crucial, fundamental and decisive: without regulation is simply not possible to carry out the prevention or combating nanotoxicity. The rules must be very clearly defined, with no gaps and no room for bad and/or ineffective practices. Unfortunately, regulation does not fall from the sky. The regulation is built in stages, gradually. As the information arrives, is analyzed and conclusions are taken, matured and consolidated. Then, decisions are taken and regulation is released. New unexpected situations emerge: the cycle repeats itself and regulation is updated and/or upgrated. Regulation must take into account all matters discussed above and many emerging and unexpected others. Since nanotoxicity affects the entire biosphere and the entire environment on a planetary scale, regulation must also require the participation and consensus of all countries. Regulations to combat and prevent nanotoxicity must involve experts and players from various sectors around the world, working in a collaborative context with the aim of building a better world for us ALL. All countries must provide timely data to a multinational organization (provided with multinational approved authority) to monitor compliance or infringement of the rules established. Measures must be studied to be applied in case of any country violating these regulations. Sanctions must be applied to infringing countries. The screening centres I proposed above must report directly to this multinational organization. Through this way, screening centres will also have authority and legitimate mandates to carry out effectively their mission.
  • Change of mindset, attitudes and practices. Education of professionals in the academia and in the industry in changing processes and practices that facilitate the fight against nanotoxicity and nanopollution and their prevention. Again, a whole wide culture of best practices needs to be strengthened, intensified, generalized and adopted as the only option possible.

The Great Lessons That Nature Has to Teach us

It is very common for Humans pass through Life without taking even one single lesson that nature has to teach us. And nature has so many lessons to teach us.

I could start here a never-ending list of examples. I selected two only (not necessarily the most appropriate ones). Those two examples will help me to explain how I perceive a world without nanotoxicity and how it is possible to achieve this status. Nevertheless, dear reader, remember: metaphors and analogies are a good way to explain i
deas. However, they are not perfect. Follow the two examples I selected:

  • Mutations tend to occur frequently in the cells. However, cells have mechanisms of self-correction which are in a state of alert to prevent the occurrence of such mutations. Through this natural mechanism, most of mutations do not progress and, instead, are naturally corrected and return to normal.
  • Tumours tend to form more often than they actually are formed. The immune system has defence mechanisms which prevent early that the vast majority of these tumours have a chance to develop and proliferate. Again, the body has mechanisms of self-protection which are in a state of alert to prevent that these malignancies. Again, through this natural mechanism, the majority of tumours does not grow and, instead, are naturally killed.
These two examples will help me to explain what I call "a concept based on a dynamic and preventive balance".

A World Without Nanotoxicity: a Concept Based on a Dynamic And Preventive Balance

A world without nanotoxicity.

Written this way, even sounds like a fairy tale. Not exactly. At this point, it is appropriate to explain 
how I perceive and what I mean by "a world without nanotoxicity".

Therefore, in my modest opinion, a world without nanotoxicity is a world in which the existing nanotoxicity does not present significant levels of risk, and these are monitored, evaluated and controlled by a vast, diverse and complex apparatus of highly competent experts and organizations working together in a coordinated and complex network and in continuous mode, combating and preventing nanotoxicity and nanopollution through a process similar to natural defence mechanisms.

I sincerely and strongly believe that the Human species has all the skills and resources to achieve this level in our civilization.

The Great Spiral of Sustainability Applied to Combat And Prevent Nanotoxicity and Nanopollution

Some very important and decisive steps have been taken, with regard to combating and preventing nanotoxicity and nanopollution. There is still much hard work to be done. This is an irrefutable fact. There is no question about it. However, the combat and prevention of nanotoxicity and nanopollution is not exactly in phase zero. Much valuable work has already been developed in various fields.

There is a whole vast and diversified chain of actors, individuals and organizations related to nanoscience, nanotechnology, nanomedicine, life science, physics, chemistry - just to name a few - 
and science in general. I do not just mean the academia, the industry and the scientific community only.

It was (somewhere in this chain) triggered the implementation of a culture of best practices. I have already observed this. It is extremely important that this culture (which is still in its infancy) is strategically maintained and enhanced to have a strong social impact. If this culture of best practices gains social impact, it will generate a kind of chain reaction along the whole chain of chain actors, individuals and related organizations. This process will generate a highly positive effect that will gradually increase the awareness in all individuals and actors in this chain.

At one point in the future (and may be a near future), we will see actors competing among themselves to see who implements the "best of best practices". This dynamic competition will be highly beneficial to strengthen and implement a vast combat and prevention of nanotoxicity and nanopollution. The world, the biosphere, the human species and the environment will benefit greatly from this great spiral of sustainability.

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