Addressing conflicts of interest in nanotechnology oversight: lessons learned from drug and pesticide safety testing
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- Elliott, K.C. & Volz, D.C. J Nanopart Res (2012) 14: 664. doi:10.1007/s11051-011-0664-9
Financial conflicts of interest raise significant challenges for those working to develop an effective, transparent, and trustworthy oversight system for assessing and managing the potential human health and ecological hazards of nanotechnology. A recent paper in this journal by Ramachandran et al., J Nanopart Res, 13:1345–1371 (2011) proposed a two-pronged approach for addressing conflicts of interest: (1) developing standardized protocols and procedures to guide safety testing; and (2) vetting safety data under a coordinating agency. Based on past experiences with standardized test guidelines developed by the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and implemented by national regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA), we argue that this approach still runs the risk of allowing conflicts of interest to influence toxicity tests, and it has the potential to commit regulatory agencies to outdated procedures. We suggest an alternative approach that further distances the design and interpretation of safety studies from those funding the research. In case the two-pronged approach is regarded as a more politically feasible solution, we also suggest three lessons for implementing this strategy in a more dynamic and effective manner.