day soon, in a remote village in the developing world,
a health worker will put a drop of a patient's blood
on a piece of plastic about the size of a coin. Within
minutes, a full diagnostic examination will be complete
including the usual battery of blood work tests, plus
analysis for infectious diseases such as malaria and
HIV/AIDS, hormonal imbalances, even cancer.
remarkable piece of plastic is called a lab-on-a-chip
and it is one of the revolutionary products and processes
currently emerging from nanotechnology research with
the potential to transform the lives of billions of
the world's most vulnerable inhabitants.
to a new study by the Canadian Program on Genomics
and Global Health (CPGGH) at the University of Toronto
Joint Centre for Bioethics (JCB), a leading international
medical ethics think-tank, several nanotechnology
applications will help people in developing countries
tackle their most urgent problems - extreme poverty
and hunger, child mortality, environmental degradation
and diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. The study
is the first ranking of nanotechnology applications
relative to their impact on development; it was published
today by the prestigious, open-access, US-based Public
Library of Science journal PLoS Medicine.
study also relates the impact of nanotechnologies
to the world's eight Millennium Development Goals,
agreed in 2000 for achievement by 2015.
waves of technology can increase the gap between rich
and poor but the harnessing of nanotechnology represents
a chance to close these gaps. The targeted application
of nanotechnology has enormous potential to bring
about major improvements in the living standards of
people in the developing world," says CPGGH co-director
and JCB Director Dr. Peter Singer.
and technology alone are not going to magically solve
all the problems of developing countries but they
are critical components of development. Nanotechnology
is a relatively new field that will soon be providing
radical and relatively inexpensive solutions to critical
is the study, design, creation, synthesis, manipulation,
and application of functional materials, devices,
and systems through control of matter at the nanometer
scale (one nanometer being equal to 1 x 10-9 of a
meter), and the exploitation of novel phenomena and
properties of matter at that scale. When matter is
manipulated at the tiny scale of atoms and molecules,
it exhibits novel phenomena and properties. Thus,
scientists are harnessing nanotechnology to create
new, inexpensive materials, devices, and systems with
of the CPGGH study included identifying and ranking
the 10 nanotechnology applications most likely to
have an impact in the developing world. The study
team asked an international panel of 63 experts which
nanotechnology applications are most likely to benefit
developing countries in the areas of water, agriculture,
nutrition, health, energy and the environment in the
next 10 years.
top 10 nanotechnology applications are:
storage, production and conversion;
Agricultural productivity enhancement;
Water treatment and remediation;
Disease diagnosis and screening;
Drug delivery systems;
Food processing and storage;
Air pollution and remediation;
Vector and pest detection and control.
With a high degree of unanimity, panelists selected
energy production, conversion and storage, along
with creation of alternative fuels, as the area
where nanotechnology applications are most likely
to benefit developing countries.
development and energy consumption are inextricably
linked," says Singer. "If nanotechnology
can help developing countries to move towards energy
self-sufficiency, then the benefits of economic growth
will become that much more accessible."
leader Dr. Fabio Salamanca-Buentello explained that
nano-structured materials are being used to build
a new generation of solar cells, hydrogen fuel cells
and novel hydrogen storage systems that will deliver
clean energy to countries still reliant on traditional,
non-renewable contaminating fuels.
well, recent advances in the creation of synthetic
nano-membranes embedded with proteins are capable
of turning light into chemical energy.
technologies will help people in developing countries
avoid recurrent shortages and price fluctuations that
come with dependence on fossil fuels, as well as the
environmental consequences of mining and burning oil
and coal," he says.
two on the list is agriculture, where science is developing
a range of inexpensive nanotech applications to increase
soil fertility and crop production, and help eliminate
malnutrition - a contributor to more than half the
deaths of children under five in developing countries.
materials are in development for the slow release
and efficient dosage of fertilizers for plants and
of nutrients and medicines for livestock. Other agricultural
developments include nano-sensors to monitor the health
of crops and farm animals and magnetic nano-particles
to remove soil contaminants.
treatment is third-ranked by the panel. "One-sixth
of the world's population lacks access to safe water
supplies," says Dr. Salamanca-Buentello.
than one third of the population of rural areas in
Africa, Asia, and Latin America has no clean water,
and two million children die each year from water-related
diseases, such as diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, and
schistosomiasis, which result from a lack of adequate
water sources and sanitation."
and nano-clays are inexpensive, portable and easily
cleaned systems that purify, detoxify and desalinate
water more efficiently than conventional bacterial
and viral filters. Researchers also have developed
a method of large-scale production of carbon nano-tube
filters for water quality improvement.
water applications include systems (based on titanium
dioxide and on magnetic nano-particles) that decompose
organic pollutants and remove salts and heavy metals
from liquids, enabling the use of heavily contaminated
and salt water for irrigation and drinking. Several
of the contaminating substances retrieved could then
be easily recycled.
diagnosis and screening was ranked fourth. Here technologies
include the "lab-on-a-chip", which offers
all the diagnostic functions of a medical laboratory,
and other biosensors based on nano-sized tubes, wires,
magnetic particles and semiconductor crystals (quantum
dots). These inexpensive, hand-held diagnostic kits
detect the presence of several pathogens at once and
could be used for wide-range screening in small peripheral
clinics. Meanwhile, nanotechnology applications are
in development that would greatly enhance medical
out the top 10:
Drug delivery systems: including nano-capsules, dendrimers
(tiny bush-like spheres made of branched polymers),
and "buckyballs" (soccerball-shaped structures
made of 60 carbon atoms) for slow, sustained drug
release systems, characteristics valuable for countries
without adequate drug storage capabilities and distribution
networks. Nanotechnology could also potentially reduce
transportation costs and even required dosages by
improving shelf-life, thermo-stability and resistance
to changes in humidity of existing medications;
Food processing and storage: including improved plastic
film coatings for food packaging and storage that
may enable a wider and more efficient distribution
of food products to remote areas in less industrialized
countries; antimicrobial emulsions made with nano-materials
for the decontamination of food equipment, packaging,
or food; and nanotech-based sensors to detect and
Air pollution remediation: including nanotech-based
innovations that destroy air pollutants with light;
make catalytic converters more efficient, cheaper
and better controlled; detect toxic materials and
leaks; reduce fossil fuel emissions; and separate
Construction: including nano-molecular structures
to make asphalt and concrete more resistant to water;
materials to block ultraviolet and infrared radiation;
materials for cheaper and durable housing, surfaces,
coatings, glues, concrete, and heat and light exclusion;
and self-cleaning for windows, mirrors and toilets.
Health monitoring: several nano-devices are being
developed to keep track of daily changes in patients'
physiological variables such as the levels of glucose,
of carbon dioxide, and of cholesterol, without the
need for drawing blood in a hospital setting. This
way, patients suffering from diabetes would know at
any given time the concentration of sugar in their
blood; similarly, patients with heart diseases would
be able to monitor their cholesterol levels constantly.
Disease vector and pest detection control: including
nano-scale sensors for pest detection, and improved
pesticides, insecticides, and insect repellents.
global challenges using nanotechnology
study team found that several developing countries
have already launched nanotechnology initiatives.
India's Department of Science and Technology will
invest $20 million over the next four years, for example,
and China ranks third in the world behind the United
States and Japan in the number of nanotech patent
at China's Tsinghua University have begun clinical
tests for a bone scaffold based on nanotechnology
which gradually disintegrates as the patient's damaged
skeletal tissue heals. This application of nanotechnology
is especially relevant for developing countries, where
the number of skeletal injuries resulting from road
traffic accidents is acute.
Brazil, the projected budget for nanoscience during
the next five years (2004-2007) is about US $25 million,
and three institutes, four networks, and approximately
300 scientists are working in nanotechnology. Brazilian
researchers are investigating the use of modified
magnetic nanoparticles to remove oil from oil spills;
both the nanoparticles and the oil could potentially
South African Nanotechnology Initiative is a national
network of academic researchers involved in areas
such as nanophase catalysts, nanofiltration, nanowires,
nanotubes, and quantum dots. And Mexico has world-class
researchers in carbon nanotubes. Other developing
countries pursuing nanotechnology include Thailand,
Philippines, Chile, and Argentina.
member nations of the international community have
a self-interest and a moral obligation to support
the development and use by less industrialized countries
of these top 10 nanotechnologies to address key development
challenges," says Dr. Abdallah Daar, MD, Director
for Ethics and Policy of the McLaughlin Centre for
Molecular Medicine and co-director of the CPGGH.
propose an initiative, called Addressing Global Challenges
Using Nanotechnology, that can be modelled on the
Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative launched
last year by the Foundation for the National Institutes
of Health and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
grand challenge directs investigators to seek a specific
scientific or technological breakthrough that would
overcome obstacles to solving significant development
problems. In our proposed initiative, a specific Grand
Challenges in Nanotechnology project would foster
scientific and technological advances that would encourage
development in less industrialized countries. The
top 10 nanotechnology applications identified in our
current study are a good starting point for defining
these grand challenges.
results can provide guidance to developing countries
themselves to help target their growing initiatives
in nanotechnology. The goal should be to use nanotechnology
responsibly to generate real benefits for the 5 billion
people in the developing world."
Program on Genomics and Global Health
Harnessing genomics to improve global health equity.
mission of the Canadian Program in Genomics and Global
Health (CPGGH) is to harness genomics to improve global
health equity. Our vision is to optimize global health
benefits and minimize the social risks of advances
in genomics, biotechnology, and other emerging technologies
through careful evaluation of the associated social
and economic impacts. The purpose of our research
is to ensure that developing countries share the social
and economic benefits of the genomics revolution,
to prevent the emergence of a "genomics divide,"
and to address exisiting disparities in global human
its creation four years ago, CPGGH has become recognized
around the world as a leading program on genomics
and global health. For more information: www.geneticsethics.net
of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics
Innovative. Interdisciplinary. International. Improving
health care through bioethics.
JCB is a partnership among the University of Toronto
and thirteen hospitals. It provides leadership in
bioethics research, education, and clinical activities.
Its vision is to be a model of interdisciplinary collaboration
in order to create new knowledge and improve practices
with respect to bioethics. The JCB does not advocate
positions on specific issues, although its individual
members may do so.
goals of the JCB are:
foster interdisciplinary research and scholarship,
link education to research, and disseminate research
findings to improve policies and practices.
To support undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate
educational programs in bioethics.
To support clinical ethics activities including
continuing education for health care providers,
ethics committees, ethics consultation, and projects
to address specific issues arising in JCB hospitals.
To foster a collegial discussion of bioethics issues
throughout the JCB participating institutions, and
to serve as a resource for the media, policymakers,
and community groups.
more information: www.utoronto.ca/jcb
R. Samuel McLaughlin Centre for Molecular Medicine
was established with a vision of improving health
through the application of molecular advances to clinical
care. Founded with a 50 million dollar endowment,
the Centre is a joint initiative of the University
of Toronto and four affiliated hospital-based research
institutions. The centre seeks to become a global
leader in translational research by attracting the
best and brightest.
more information: www.mcmm.ca/
Medicine is an open access, freely available international
medical journal. It publishes original research that
enhances our understanding of human health and disease,
together with commentary and analysis of important
global health issues. For more information: www.plosmedicine.org
Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a non-profit organization
of scientists and physicians committed to making the
world's scientific and medical literature a freely
available public resource. For more information: www.plos.org