Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Small

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Small

Article excerpt

"Small is small, small is different, small is hard to predict." So said Dr. Philippe Martin of the European Commission at the FDA's recent public meeting on nanotechnology. The meeting, called by the FDA to receive information rather than provide it. was held a[ the National Institutes of Health on October 11 and was attended by around five hundred people. They came to hear from industry, government, consumer groups, advocates, and civil society about developments in nanotechnology pertaining to FDA-regulated products, as well as concerns about them.

Nanotechnology--an amorphous term generally refers to the manipulation of matter at the nanoscale. One nanometer equals one billionth of a meter. Many materials, structures, and devices classified as "nano" are generally from one to one hundred nanometers in size. (For the sake of comparison, a human hair is about eighty thousand nanometers in diameter.) At this small size, matter often behaves differently, which can be useful for creating strong, light, flexible materials and structures so tiny they can invade cancer cells.

Some products are already on the market. An inventory created by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars contains over three hundred and twenty nanotechnology consumer products, including paints, fabrics, sports equipment, dietary supplements, sunscreens, and drugs. The single largest product category in the Wilson inventory is cosmetics.

The FDA regulates cosmetics, as well as food additives, dietary supplements, and, of course, drugs, biologics, and medical devices, but perhaps not as much as expected. While the FDA requires premarket safety and efficacy testing of drugs, it does not review or preapprove cosmetic products or ingredients and can remove a cosmetic from the market only if it is unsafe or misbranded. …

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