I recently spent an entertaining day at a Royal Society of Chemistry workshop looking mainly at risks and regulation of nanomaterials. I say entertaining because there were a number of highly engaging speakers and a lively discussion, and as I was not speaking it was a rare privilege to be able to just sit down and listen.
A report will be issued in due course, but the overwhelming impression I received is that the funding of nanotoxicology reserach in the UK is a complete shambles. Time and time again we heard tales of how the government agencies responsible for this rather important area had no resources and passed the buck to others. We discussed how hard it is for toxicologists to keep up with industry, and how the situation is exacerbated by having to spend an additional couple of years scrabbling around for funding.
A major contributor to the confusion seems to be the very nature of nanotechnologies, as it falls under the auspices of a number of government agencies, from Health and Safety to the Department of Trade and Industry, to DEFRA and the Medical Reserach Council, none of which seem to be able to lay their hands on any cash. This also allows the various agencies to run researchers ragged by claiming that toxicology is the responsibility of some other department.
The Government best solution, it appears, is for the UK to wait for the European Commission to do something about nanotoxicology through the EU’s 7th Five Year Plan. While I buy the argument that any research into toxicology and safety that leads to regulation needs to be undertaken at an international level, I am less convinced that twiddling our thumbs for a few years until someone else comes up with the cash is particularly sensible, either from a PR or a scientific viewpoint.
It is rather amazing that after the UKs bright start in nanotechnologies, most government attempts to boost the sector seem to have resulted in muddying the water for businesses and starving researchers of cash.