FDA Seeks Further Studies Of Nanotechnology

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is seeking additional studies into nanotechnology over the unknown side effects on the human body from these very tiny particles.

U.S. regulators just advised food and cosmetic companies to expand their nanotechnology studies. Nanotechnology is, explained Reuters, the design and manufacture of materials that are one-billionth of one meter, which is smaller than what is viewable with a regular light microscope.

Used in hundreds of products, nanotechnology is already found in stain-resistant clothing, cosmetics, and food additives, noted Reuters; however, its human health effects are not clearly understood.

Consider, for instance, that nanoparticles might penetrate skin or move through and between the body’s organs. Scientists are not clear on the effect this activity could have on the body, said Reuters. Because of this, the FDA just issued two draft guidelines that urge for additional research, saying the agency is in early stages of its nanotech review and is looking for companies to take responsibility for product safety, said Reuters.

“Understanding nanotechnology remains a top FDA priority,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. “FDA is strengthening the scientific tools and methods for evaluating food products, cosmetics, drugs, and medical devices,” Hamburg added. In the meantime, the FDA has advised companies that the nanotechnology used in food additives or food packaging should be cleared with the agency and should include data indicating that the changes are safe. “The consequences (to consumers and to the food industry) of broadly distributing a food substance that is later recognized to present a safety concern have the potential to be significant,” said the guide, wrote Reuters.

Prevailing regulations mandate U.S. companies that manufacture food additives and ingredients to prove those ingredients are “generally recognized as safe,” said Reuters. Because nanotechnology does not automatically fall into this category, the FDA said that companies must provide additional safety data in order to receive approval.

Cosmetic makers must also conduct additional product testing, said Reuters. This means, for example, that more testing would be required on the nanotechnology used to create smoother moisturizers or lipsticks.

We previously wrote about nanotubes, which are feared to pose similar health risks as asbestos. Discovered in 1991, nanotubes are basically rolled-up carbon sheets of tiny, super-strong carbon fibers used to produce materials much lighter and stronger than steel. Nanotubes are found in a variety of common products, such as tennis rackets.

Scientists have long wondered whether needle-shaped Nanotubes might cause similar diseases to those caused by needle-shaped asbestos fibers, such as lung cancer; mesothelioma a cancer of the lining of the chest and abdominal cavity; and asbestosis, in which lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue.

Researchers previously reporting in the journal Nature Nanotechnology conducted testing on the technology and suggested that, in time, the lesions caused by long nanotubes would develop into mesothelioma. Laboratory and nanotube manufacturer workers were believed to be in the most serious danger. Concern was also expressed that nanotubes embedded in a golf club or bicycle frames, which might not be immediately released, could be released later, in much the same way as asbestos in concrete or automobile brake pads was inhaled by construction workers or mechanics.

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