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The report also addresses the concern that a law could affect small businesses and suggests that the government create support programs to lead small enterprises through the approval processes. Davies, the author of the report, and others have pointed out that most small companies in nanotech eventually partner with larger companies to bring a product to market – so the regulatory burden could instead fall on the big company.

Nevertheless, Greg Schmergel, CEO of Nantero, a nanotech startup in Woburn, MA, is still concerned that new regulations and requirements will shift the balance in favor of big business and generally “slow everything down.”

In spite of these risks to innovation, many others say the risks from not regulating are greater, both to human and environmental health, and the health of the nanotechnology industry. Certainly, if nanotech is to succeed in the long run, it cannot afford a public backlash as the result of, for example, some products causing health problems.

Ultimately, though, discussion of a new law may prove to be academic. It seems unlikely that new regulations will be passed in the current, decidedly anti-regulatory Congress and administration. Indeed, if history is a guide, the consensus needed to generate a law may arise only in response to a disaster. With nanotech, however, its proponents are trying to get ahead of the game, to set up a framework that prevents a problem in the first place. For now, though, the most helpful strategy may be to focus on extending basic research to create a solid foundation for regulation, when and if the political will for it emerges.

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Tagged: Biomedicine

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