BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - Nanomedicine needs a proper analysis of its ethical implications, according to the high-level ethics group that advises the European Union.

An opinion released by the European group on ethics in science and new technologies underlines "the vital importance of addressing concern for safety with respect to nanomedical developments (and, in fact, nanotechnology in general) and therefore advocates the need to establish measures to verify the safety of nanomedical products and to ensure that nanomedical devices are properly assessed with regard to public health."

The group acknowledged that nanomedicine offers the possibility of new diagnostic, treatment and preventive methods that may open up promising areas of medicine. But it proposed giving new responsibilities to European and national institutions to protect the safety of patients and citizens, and to ensure the safety of nanotech developments.

The opinion also urges wider public debate on the prospects - including the uncertainties and knowledge gaps. That, it said, "is essential for public trust in nanotechnology."

New regulatory structures are not yet necessary specifically for nanomedicine, the opinion said, but that special vigilance will be needed where advances are made in overlapping sectors, to ensure clear decision making and adequate protection of the public.

Nanomedicine has raised high expectations in Europe over its potential in diagnostics, drug development and delivery, imaging and other health-related applications. EU research programs already have invested more than €1.36 billion (US$1.76 billion) in nanotechnology, and a further €3.5 billion currently is envisioned for further support over the next five years. It is expected that €300 to €400 million will be provided in 2007 alone.