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Wednesday, 08 July 2020

The European Panel for the Future of Science and Technology discusses the role of nanotechnology in medicine

An online seminar on the future of nanotechnology in biology and medicine was held on June 25 by the European Parliament Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA). Prof Laura Lechuga, leader of the ICN2 Nanobiosensors and Bioanalytical Applications Group and coordinator of the European project CoNVaT, was invited to present her project and discuss the impact of nanotechnology in diagnostics and prevention of future pandemics.

Nanotechnology is not a newly born area of science, nevertheless it has been developing at a faster pace in the latest decade and has recently brought important contributions to biology and medicine. The potentialities of such new applications are wide and the European Union is investing in many projects where nanotechnology is used to tackle relevant societal challenges. Along this line, the European Parliament (EP) Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) organized on June 25 an online seminar and round table to discuss how nanotechnology is transforming biology and medicine and the increasingly important role that it is assuming in both diagnostics and therapy.

The event was chaired by Lina Gálvez Muños, a member of the STOA panel and Vice-Chair of the EP Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. The first speaker taking the floor was Prof. Sonia Contera, Full Professor of Biological Physics at the University of Oxford, who talked about how nanoscience has been facilitating biology research, first by offering advanced technology to visualize and probe biological structures – which have nano-dimensions -- and then by providing tools to manipulate them. On the other hand, biology itself has inspired the design and building of nanostructures and nanomachines, which emulate characteristics and behaviours of cells, tissues and other biological systems.

Prof. Laura Lechuga, leader of the ICN2 Nanobiosensors and Bioanalytical Applications Group, continued the discussion talking about the impact that recent nanotechnology advances can produce in medicine and, in particular, in the diagnostics of various diseases -- from diabetes, to cancer, to infectious diseases as the COVID-19. She presented the CoNVaT project, funded by the European Union with a special call to face the spread of the SARS-COV-2 virus, which aims at developing cheap and portable devices for a fast and reliable diagnosis of the COVID-19 and, at a second stage, future possible coronavirus diseases. She highlighted the relevance of applying nanoscience and nanotechnology to the development of novel tools for both diagnostics and therapy delivering.

A reflection on ethic issues and responsible research in nanotechnology was then introduced by Maurizio Salvi, Senior Policy Analyst at the European Commission. The application of new technologies to medicine often raises both great expectations and concerns, thus it is important to take into account bioethics issues and to establish protocols for a responsible use of new technologies. This debate is indeed promoted at pan-European level by the European Commission.

Dr Roxanne van Giesen, a senior researcher in the field of consumer behaviour at CentERdata, a research institute located at the Tilburg University Campus (the Netherlands), presented the study she conducted on society’s perception of nanotechnology and the attitude of people towards its applications to medicine. This research revealed that knowledge about nanotechnology among consumers is rather low and, as a consequence, their opinions are largely based on feelings and emotions rather than information and facts. In order to avoid negative opinions and resistance from society and stakeholders, it is important to increase general knowledge about this field of research and connect to their existing feelings and value systems.

The event concluded with a round table between the speakers and the attendees, in which also participated Prof. Petra De Sutter, professor in genecology at Ghent University (Belgium), a member of the European Parliament and of the STOA panel. Composed by 27 members of the European Parliament nominated from 11 permanent parliamentary committees, the STOA panel was launched in 1987 and assigned the task to identify and independently assess the impact of new and emerging science and technology in order to assist the EP on such topics.