Public research institutions must now publish an annual re iew o their action in the ield o scienti ic risk pre ention. "By announcing recently this measure, the Minister delegate or research rançois Goulard, sought to de use criticism that regularly returns to the sur ace:"some researchers beha e like sorcerer's apprentice." Under the pretext o scienti ic disco ery, they tra icking matter and manipulate li ing in the secret o their laboratories.
A recent sur ey con irms the growing concern o the rench to the risks arising rom acti ities scienti ic, technological or industrial imprudent. More than 80 o them ear health skids, and a majority now subscribe to the chilling concept o risk zero ("Les Echos" o ebruary 6). Each crisis rein orces a suspicion based on an accumulation o cases which ha e le t traces in the memory: contaminated blood, mad cow, Chernobyl, asbestos...
Signs o time, in a recent orum organized in Paris by the economic and social Council on nanotechnologies, all the questions asked o the speakers ocused on the potential dangers associated with the de elopment o this discipline in ull boom and none about its potential bene its.
To answer these questions about the in initely small, initiati es are multiplying. The CNRS has opened a site called "nanotechnology and health". The parliamentary O ice or e aluation o scienti ic choices and technological (OPECST) and the national ethics Ad isory Committee (NEAC) prepare reports. All these actions ha e a common goal: a oid a "passionate deri es" o rench public opinion leading global rejection o new technologies in the country, in the image o genetically modi ied organisms. This year, the national agency o research (ANR) should de ote EUR 3 million to research projects ocusing on the measurement o the "Science at risk".
Many experts belie e that this e ort is largely insu icient under the budget in ested in research and de elopment o nanotechnology. In 2005, it is estimated that about 10 billion euros were injected into this position in the world. All industrialized countries ha e launched public initiati es well unded, and the European Union ramework or research and de elopment program. A key, a highly di ersi ied market estimated at 1,000 billion by 2020. Since powders and ultra ine ibers to drugs targeted, electronic components and sensors ultraminiaturisés. "But there is no accurate census o the currently a ailable nanoparticles." "We do not not more independent and transparent their toxicology assessment", pro ides Stéphanie Lacour responsible or research at the CNRS and specialist in the law.
Didier Sicard, President o the national Ad isory Committee o ethics or the li e sciences, claims the launch o research programmes speci ically dedicated to the study o the nanotech risk. It is true that in this area, many biologists are wary o the e ect o size including the health consequences are poorly known. Normally inert particles such as titanium dioxide or carbon could become toxic under critical diameter gi ing them the opportunity to enter and settle in the cell.
It is at the crossing o the li ing, nanotechnology, In ormatics and telecommunications are the strongest queries. The injection o biosensors in the body or the registry o chips in the brain are more science iction topics. "One can imagine a molecular GPS capable to ensure the tracking o cell objects in the organization." "This allows us access to a le el o exploration o the li ing unknown to this day," explains Patrick Cou reur, Director o a research unit specializing in biopharmaceuticals o the CNRS at the uni ersité Paris-XI. In act, it is no longer ery away rom whether creating hybrid structures able to circulate in the human body, to gather in ormation, identi y abnormal cells and e entually destroy them. In theory, these ectors equated sometimes with microscopic cruise missiles are able to ile a charge "military" (drug or metal particle) within the sick cell. At the same time, the sensiti ity o injection machines laboratories in the body has made considerable progress. We know the presence o a biological marker in analyzing a microscopic sample o blood luid. "This is the dilution o a drop o milk in an Olympic swimming pool", adds Christophe ieu, researcher at the laboratory or analysis and architecture o systems ((LAAS) o the CNRS in Toulouse.)
"Appreciating to the blow by blow"
In the United States, the erichip irm specializing in the design o small sensors (a grain o rice) that can be implanted under the skin. They use R ID (Radio requency Identi ication) technology to transmit personal medical in ormation to authorized persons. Objecti e: ollow continuous o patients at risk. But these spies acting or the good cause may also become the cookies. Recently, Cali ornia (Caltech) researchers ha e de eloped an electronic memory o the size o a white blood cell. This component at this time o limited capacity (160 kB) contains a matrix o son o titanium and Silicon intersecting with a step o 12 nanometers.
or all these new techniques, the extent o the risk-bene it ratio is not simple. Most o the experts may also respond to the questions asked by the company. To, the principle o precaution all regulate the risk o o erlooking use ul de elopments. "He must try to piecemeal with applications", said Philippe Lemoine member o the National Commission or computing and liberties (CNIL). "Making ethics on ignorance has something risky, e en dangerous." "Our recommendations cannot there ore as being shy, or e en be almost o commonplaces", or his part judge Didier Sicard.