Nanotechnologies can open up promising areas in diagnosis and treatment but measures are needed to ensure that related medical products and devices are safe, scientific experts told the Commission.

A special expert group advising the Commission on science ethics delivered its opinion on ethical issues raised by medical developments such as nanotech-based drugs and nano-scale treatment devices on 17 January.

The European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE) says that nanomedicine may open up promising areas in diagnosis, treatment and preventive methods for illness such as cancer or cardiovascular diseases.

But it adds: "Social, economic, political and ethical concerns will need to be properly addressed if nanomedicine is to be used in a way which is ethically sound, democratically discussed and respectful of citizens' rights." 

The advice comes as the Commission prepares to channel some €100 million to nanomedicine projects annually as part of the EU's €3.5 billion Seventh Framework Programme for research (2007-2013).

The group stresses the need to address concerns regarding nanomedical developments and recommends establishing measures to verify the safety of products.

It also says that transparency regarding uncertainties and knowledge gaps is essential for public trust in nanotechnology and proposes to organise academic and public debates on problems and possibilities posed by present and near-future nanomedicines. 

The experts also recommend the establishement of a 'European network on nanotechnology ethics'.