UNESCO Chair in Bioethics


  • Bioethics and Law Observatory
  • UNESCO Chair in Bioethics
  • University of Barcelona
  • Faculty of Law
  • Ave. Diagonal, 684
  • 08034 Barcelona
  • (+34) 93 403 45 46
  • obd.ub@ub.edu
  • Master in Bioethics and Law
  • (+34) 93 403 45 46
  • master.bd@ub.edu


The Bioethics and Law Observatory of the PCB identifies the risks of nanotechnology and suggests key measures to preserve safety and human rights in this field


- The OBD has just made public the following document at the Barcelona Science Park: «Nanotechnology and Global Bioethics», the first work in Europe that analyses the cross-sectional nature of nanotechnologies and establishes recommendations for the five key sectors involved.

- The event has also included the presentation of the book «Bioethics and Nanotechnology», which offers an interdisciplinary analysis in order to detect conditions that pose a risk to health, privacy, integrity, safety and environmental impact resulting from research in nanoscience.

Tuesday October 5 2010. Today, October 5, the Bioethics and Law Observatory (OBD) of the Barcelona Science Park has made public a new document at the PCB: «Nanotechnology and Global Bioethics», coordinated by María Casado, director of the OBD and holder of the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics  of the University of Barcelona (UB), and Maria Jesús Buxó, professor of Anthropology at the UB and member of the OBD. 

The book «Bioethics and Nanotechnology», the latest addition to the collection «Bioethics and Law Materials», published by Civitas Thomson Reuters under the coordination of María Casado, was also presented during this event.

The following guests participated in the event: Fernando Albericio, general director of the PCB; Cristina González, vice-dean of International Relations and Research of the School of Law of the UB; Arantxa Sanz, head of Institutional Projects of the Bioengineering Institute of Catalonia (IBEC), and the coordinators of the document.

Both documents have been developed within the framework of the «Nanobiolaw: bioethical, social and legal implications of Nanotechnologies» (Ref. SEJ2007-61210/JURI) research project, funded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation.  Since 2004, the OBD’s research group has also participated in the European excellence network «Nano2life», in the project «A Network for Bringing Nanotechnologies to Life», and in the managing committee « Wordpackage on Ethics (WP4)» of the PCB.

Nanotechnology is a field in the sciences that aims to control and manipulate matter at a scale under one micrometer (one thousandth of a millimetre), or at the level of atoms and molecules. Its applications are found in the fields of medicine, environment, energy, communications, manufacturing of chemical and pharmaceutical products and materials for the computer, aeronautics and automotive industries, amongst others. It is therefore an unprecedented technological platform due to the interdisciplinary convergence of chemistry, physics, biology, materials science, optoelectronics, computer science, cognitive sciences, and others.

Its complexity and the fact that it is an R+D+I field in early stages make the identification of its risks and problems a difficult task. At present the main concerns are the fact that when matter is manipulated at such a tiny scale, it presents phenomena and properties that are completely new, leading to potential risks, derivatives of incidental effects, such as toxicity, and the current difficulties in controlling the traceability, biocompatibility and biodegrading of inert materials and nanoproducts in clinical treatments, occupational and research settings, as well as in the environment.

Researchers and industries do not constitute a homogeneous group, so each one maintains different safety guidelines, both in different laboratories and manufacturing plants.

The Opinion Group of the Bioethics and Law Observatory does not wish to focus on discussions regarding potential impacts, or to adopt points of view that promote speculative ethics based on possible future scenarios.  It acknowledges that nanotechnologies offer an opportunity for societal progress if they are developed within a framework of responsibility, safety and collaboration between all of the sectors involved, and if cross-sectional assessment and management regulations are established to connect research centres and industry, both at a national and international scale.

The «Nanotechnology and Global Bioethics» document

«Nanotechnology and Global Bioethics» is the first publication in Europe that specifically addresses the cross-sectional nature of nanoscience and nanotechnology with the aim that scientific knowledge and the assessment of nanotechnological applications be performed using criteria and arguments that foster a transparent and efficient debate, including the media in this exchange.

On the one hand, the document identifies the bioethical problems and conflicts derived from the risks of nanotechnology applications in the fields of biomedicine, environment and biosafety, as well as its consequences in terms of involvement of goods, values and rights, such as quality of life, equity, privacy and safety, and its ethical, social and legal implications, with the aim of guiding recommendations towards the caution, safety and responsibility of the agents involved in expert systems and citizens in general.  On the other hand, the document includes a recommendations table aimed towards five key sectors: research centre, companies and industries, public authorities, media and citizens, establishing intervention areas in connection with bioethical criteria that are a result of the identification of specific problems: responsibility, safety, transparency, collaboration and participation.

The aim of these recommendations is to contribute to the generation of criteria and arguments that transcend the founding principles of bioethics and human rights, and do so not only as protection mechanisms but as deliberative democracy, participation and accountability.  In short, to make nanotechnology available to public deliberation with the objective of ensuring that all technical-scientific advances and applications are performed under conditions that uphold fundamental rights.

The «Bioethics and Nanotechnology» book

«Bioethics and Nanotechnology» (ISBN 978-84-470-3509-0) offers an interdisciplinary view with the aim of detecting the bioethical problems sparked by nanoscience research and the increasingly growing number of nanotechnological applications.  Throughout the several chapters included in this book, the authors analyse –from their field of knowledge- the conditions that pose a risk to health, integrity, safety or environmental impact of nanotechnologies, both in the research process itself and in potential applications, especially taking into account the consequences they may have on the fundamental rights involved.