In the framework of the project NanoHealth funded by the Helmholtz Association of German research institutes using the funds of Initiation and Networking, this project is analyzing two fields of technology that are in the center of public interest, namely, synthetical nanoparticles as well as neuronal implants as exemplary technologies for "converging technologies".
Nanoscale particles consisting of specific materials partially show very different characteristics when compared to particles with larger volumes of the same material. The commercial attractivity of nanoparticles that can already be found in several products - from toner powders to coatings/laminations to sun creams - lies especially herein. At the same time, it is presumed that the changed conditions could bear new risks for human health.
In a more distant future, the implementation of neuronal implants is meant to restore and enhance human sensoric and cognitive abilities. It is assumed that new knowledge and technical progress in nanotechnology, information technology, and biotechnology will lead to solutions that will allow new therapeutical approaches but will also raise substantial ethically and socially related questions and will contain potentials for abuse.
In the course of the project NanoHealth, firstly, the current state of development and of the disciplinary discussions on the different possible consequences in these two fields of technology will be evaluated. In this way, decision makers and the public will be informed on technological trends and on their expectable impacts in the sense of a "technology foresight activity". Additionally, the results of these technology studies are meant to be discussed in focus groups together with experts and laypeople in order to learn the perspectives of these groups regarding the potentials and risks involved in the metioned technologies and in order to be able to compare these.
Basic elements of the project are
- Preparation of assessment reports which allow a more profound overview on current developments regarding technology and research policy in both of the fields as well as with regard to consequences and open research questions
- Modifications and tests of the concept of evidence assessment for the risk assessment of synthetical nanoparticles
- Discussions on technological visions and ethical questions that are related to the availability and the employment of neuronal implants against the background of experienes made by other comparable biomedical research projects
- Discussions on the metioned issues in "2x2" focus groups in the framework of which, together with experts and laypeople, reference points and action strategies are meant to be determined for a risk assessment, and new research approaches are meant to be formulated
- Presentation of the results in a workshop in order to introduce them to a wider range of interested parties
ITAS has developed the project idee on NanoHealth and is coordinating the entire project in which additional institutes of the Helmholtz Association centers and external TA institutions are participating.