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One More Thing To Think About: The Ethics Of Nanotechnology In Biomedical Engineering Research And Development

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Ethical & Industrial Issues in BME

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.896.1 - 8.896.10



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Paper Authors

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Rosalyn Berne

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2209

One more Thing to Think About: The Ethics of Nanotechnology in Bio-Medical Engineering Research and Development

Rosalyn W. Berne, Ph.D.

Division of Technology, Culture and Communications University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Introduction When the National Science and Technology Council, the Committee on Technology, and the Interagency Working Group on Nanoscience, Engineering and Technology put their ideas together in the brochure, Nanotechnology: Shaping the World Atom by Atom, they told the lay public that nanotechnology promises to fundamentally transform human life. This publication lists ‘major improvements to human health and to the practice of medicine’ as among the areas of change to come with the emerging capacity to manipulate atoms and otherwise work at the nanoscale. It also states that nanotechnology will lead to a new generation of prosthetic and medical implants “whose surfaces are molecularly designed to interact with the body.” And, that those nanoscale devices will be able to attract and assemble raw materials in bodily fluids to regenerate bone, or other missing or damaged tissues. Other amazing possibilities offered in the report are that nanostructured vaccines could eliminate hazards of conventional vaccines that rely on viruses and bacteria, and that nanotubules in the body could conceivably take up drug molecules and release them slowly over time. Chips sized home diagnostic devices with nanoscale detection and processing components that could fundamentally alter then management of illnesses and medical care, are highlighted as another potential outcome of the development of nanotechnology.

These are exciting possibilities, which place a lot of pressure on those basic researchers who are funded to explore the domains of nanoscience and on those who are funded to then develop the devices which will be needed, if we are to make good on those and other promises; promises and hopes for improving our health and environment, and for enhancing the qualities of our lives. External sources of pressure to rapidly publish research results, and to produce new devices of unprecedented capacities, seem to only be increasing in the professions of science and engineering. So are the pressures to go beyond basic science questions and to take heed of the social and ethical dimensions of the work. Policy makers, financial investors, special interest groups, and the general public, are actively interested in the social and ethical implications of bio and nanotechnology. And to some degree, they are relying on scientists and engineers to

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & 1 Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Berne, R. (2003, June), One More Thing To Think About: The Ethics Of Nanotechnology In Biomedical Engineering Research And Development Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11802

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