Nanotechnology and health - technical options, risk assessment, and provisions strategies

  • Project team:

    Fleischer, Torsten (Project leader); Michael Decker; Peter Hocke-Bergler; Christiane Hauser; Ulrich Fiedeler

  • Funding:

    Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft Deutscher Forschungszentren e.V.

  • Start date:


  • End date:


  • Project partners:

    ITAS (Project coordinator);
    Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe, Institut für Angewandte Informatik (IAI);
    EMPA Laboratory for Materials-Biology Interactions, St. Gallen;
    Forschungszentrum Jülich, Programmgruppe Mensch, Umwelt, Technik (MUT);
    EMPA Abteilung Technologie und Gesellschaft, St. Gallen;
    Europäische Akademie zur Erforschung von Folgen wissenschaftlich-technischer Entwicklungen Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler GmbH

  • Research group:

    Mobility Futures

Project description

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.


Jahnel, J.; Fleischer, T.; Seitz, S.
Challenges and questions in nanomedicine legislation
2012. Nanomedicine: Visions, Risks, Potential, Berlin, April 19-20, 2012 
Grunwald, A.
Cognitive enhancement - indicator of an emerging ’enhancement society’?
2011. Cognitive Enhancement Conf., Mainz, February 21 - March 1, 2011 
Grunwald, A.
Zukunftsverantwortung und die ’technische Verbesserung des Menschen’
2010. Was schulden wir zukünftigen Personen? : Workshop, Universität Frankfurt, 19.Februar 2010 
Book Chapters
Grunwald, A.
Ethical inquiry meets future projections. The case of human enhancement
2009. Ach, J.S. [Hrsg.] Nanobiotechnology, Nanomedicine and Human Enhancement Münster : LIT Verl., 2008 (Münsteraner Bioethik-Studien ; Bd.7), 133–53 
Spangenberg, A.; Fleischer, T.; Hocke, P.; Kastenholz, H.; Krug, H. F.; Quendt, C.; Schütz, H.; Wiedemann, P. M.
Evidence maps - a tool for summarizing and communicating evidence in assessment of uncertain noxes and its practical appliance: two case studies
2009. Society for Risk Analysis 2008 Annual Meeting, Boston, Mass., December 7-10, 2008 
Decker, M.
Neuronale Implantate
2008. Tagung ’Innovationsverantwortung’, Hamburg, 19.-21.Juni 2008 
Grunwald, A.
Soll Ethik sich überhaupt mit spekulativen Zukunftsvisionen befassen?
2008. Ringvorlesung des Instituts für Ethik, Geschichte und Theorie der Medizin: Aktuelle Probleme der Medizinethik (2008), Münster, Germany, June 17, 2008 
Grunwald, A.
Technikethik in Zeiten der Selbsttechnisierung des Menschen
2007. Die Technisierung des Gehirns : Ethische Aspekte aktueller Neurotechnologien ; Klausurwoche, Freiburg, 16.-23.September 2007 
Grunwald, A.
Technische Verbesserung des Menschen - was besagt spontane moralische Entrüstung in ethischer Hinsicht?
2007. Internat.Tagung ’Rationalität und Emotionalität’, Salzburg, A, 30.September - 3.Oktober 2007 
Grunwald, A.
Verbesserung des Menschen? Zum Spannungsfeld von Ethik und Nanobiotechnologie
2007. Vortragsreihe der Wittheit zu Bremen, Bremen, 13.März 2007 Bremen 
Decker, M.
Die Ersetzbarkeit des Menschen durch Roboter. Eine interdisziplinäre Technikfolgenabschätzung
2006. Fortbildungszentrum für Technik und Umwelt (FTU), anlässlich des Tages der offenen Tür des Forschungszentrums Karlsruhe (2006), Karlsruhe, Germany, September 23, 2006 
Decker, M.
Autonome Roboter. Eine interdisziplinäre Technikfolgenabschätzung
2006. Ringvorlesung ’Technik und Zukunft, Fachhochschule Koblenz, 17.Mai 2006 
Grunwald, A.
Computer-Gehirn-Interaktion - Schritte auf dem Weg zu einer Technisierung des Menschen?
2006. Workshop “Der implantierte Mensch” (2006), Tübingen, Germany, December 2, 2006 
Grunwald, A.
Technikfolgenabschätzung als Folgenforschung und Politikberatung. Hirnforschung im Blickfeld des Deutschen Bundestages
2006. Vortragsreihe Kognitionswissenschaft und bildgebende Verfahren, Universiät Freiburg, 4.Dezember 2006 


Dipl.-Phys. Torsten Fleischer
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe

Tel.: +49 721 608-24571