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Methodological, political and legal issues in the assessment of the effects of nanotechnology on human health
  1. Irina Guseva Canu1,
  2. Paul A Schulte2,
  3. Michael Riediker1,3,4,
  4. Liliya Fatkhutdinova5,
  5. Enrico Bergamaschi6
  1. 1 Institute for Work and Health (IST), University of Lausanne, University of Geneva, Suisse, Switzerland
  2. 2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
  3. 3 IOM (Institute of Occupational Medicine) Singapore, Singapore, Singapore
  4. 4 School of Material Science and Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore
  5. 5 Kazan State Medical University, Kazan, Russia
  6. 6 Department of Public Health Sciences and Pediatrics, University of Turin, Turin, Italy
  1. Correspondence to Professor Irina Guseva Canu, Institut universitaire romand de la Santé au Travail (IST), Route de la Corniche, 2 CH-1066 Epalinges-Lausanne, Suisse; irina.guseva-canu{at}


Engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) raise questions among the scientific community and public health authorities about their potential risks to human health. Studying a prospective cohort of workers exposed to ENMs would be considered the gold standard for identifying potential health effects of nanotechnology and confirming the ‘no effect’ levels derived from cellular and animal models. However, because only small, cross-sectional studies have been conducted in the past 5 years, questions remain about the health risks of ENMs. This essay addresses the scientific, methodological, political and regulatory issues that make epidemiological research in nanotechnology-exposed communities particularly complex. Scientific challenges include the array of physicochemical parameters and ENM production conditions, the lack of universally accepted definitions of ENMs and nanotechnology workers, and the lack of information about modes of action, target organs and likely dose–response functions of ENMs. Standardisation of data collection and harmonisation of research protocols are needed to eliminate misclassification of exposures and health effects. Forming ENM worker cohorts from a combination of smaller cohorts and overcoming selection bias are also challenges. National or international registries for monitoring the exposures and health of ENM workers would be helpful for epidemiological studies, but the creation of such a registry and ENM worker cohorts will require political support and dedicated funding at the national and international levels. Public authorities and health agencies should consider carrying out an ENM awareness campaign to educate and engage all stakeholders and concerned communities in discussion of such a project.

  • measurement
  • registers
  • longitudinal studies
  • occupational health
  • policy

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  • Contributors IGC drafted the invited essay manuscript. PAS, MR, LF and EB read, commented and completed the manuscript. All the authors approved the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding This work was supported by IST, Institut universitaire romand de santé au travail.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval This essay reports published data collected under the Ethics Approvals of original studies cited in References.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.