Nanotechnology Today

How Close Are We To Molecular Manufacturing? (and Other Happenings in the World of Nanotechnology)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Should We Be More Than a Little Scared?

I know that I often write to promote the happenings in the Nanotech world - and it's usually positive.  But today I wonder whether we shouldn't be a little more cautious with what we do.

The Wilson Center has published an updated survey of products which (may) contain nano materials (list available here). They have varying levels of confirmation, from Category 1 (Extensively verified claim) to Category 5 (not advertised by manufacturer).  In reviewing some of the products, I came across Benny the Bear, a Category 2 (Verified Claim) which is a stuffed bear which claims:

“With the additive of Silver Nanoparticles, our product has been clinically proven to fight against harmful bacteria, molds and mites.” “This technology is widely seen in the medical industry. Silver Nanotechnology is being used to coat surgical tables and equipment to thwart micro organisms.”

Scientists reviewed various products and as relates to the stuffed bear found:

Fabrics, a plush toy, and cleaning products were most likely to release silver. Silver leached mainly via dissolution and was facilitated in media with high salt concentrations. Levels of silver to which children may potentially be exposed during the normal use of these consumer products is predicted to be low, and bioavailable silver is expected to be in ionic rather than particulate form.

The question, of course, is whether the fact that the low potential exposure levels is a good thing or a bad thing.  The company, of course, would like to claim that exposure is high - as they advertise the bear as exposing children to the benefits of nano silver, which is "clinically proven to fight against harmful bacteria, molds and mites."  Perhaps scientists would prefer otherwise.

The unspoken danger, of course, is that in addition to fighting against harmful bacteria, nano silver also kills beneficial bacteria - many of which live on and inside the human body and which are necessary for humans to maintain health.

I recently read an article discussing issues with over exposure to antibiotics and the negative consequences.  One example, was a gentleman who had an ear infection (one ear only) that simply could not be treated by medical doctors.  It turns out, the gentleman cured himself.  He (and don't ask why) pulled some ear wax out of his healthy ear and placed it in his infected ear.  Sure enough, the infection (that had been impervious to antibiotics) was cured.  What was the secret?  You guessed it - bacteria.  The bacteria that lived in his healthy ear (and presumably in his infected ear prior to the infection) warded off the dangerous bacteria/microorganisms and kept his ear environment in good health.

Another example in the article revolved around an individual with severe diarrhea.  Nothing the physicians did cured it - until the patient underwent a "stool transplant".  Yes, you read it correctly.  The surgeons removed stool from a healthy colon and transferred it into the patient - who's body, once populated with good bacteria, was able to return to a normal, healthy state.

Science's sometimes myopic view of the world can lead to unintended consequences.  By developing a teddy bear which releases nano silver meant to ward off bad bacteria, this company may promote a generation of children who lack proper good bacterial populations and cause untold ailments to be visited upon these innocent children.

Science certainly has been a benefit for society.  Yet is has also been a bane - let's hope these folks spend more time considering the consequences and less time thinking about money.

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