The Impact of Nanotechnology on Womens Health

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons


Dr Ilise L. Feitshans JD and ScM, and DIR

Author, BRINGING HEALTH TO WORK (Emalyn Press 1997), Author, DESIGNING AN EFFECTIVE OSHA COMPLIANCE PROGRAM (under Treatises) and Chapter Author, ILO Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety. ” Visiting Scientist Institute for Health at Work (IST) University of Lausanne (2011-2014), Doctorate Geneva School of Diplomacy “Forecasting nano Law: Risk management Protecting Public Health Under International Law” (2014) Awarded the prize for the best research in social medicine and prevention for the University of Lausanne 2014


  1. Statement of the Public Health Law Research question:


Will  empirically documented, gender-based health disparities between men and women be reproduced, OR  improved, following the widespread use of nanotechnology?



The 2009 keystone WHO report « Women and Health: Today’s Evidence, Tomorrow’s Agenda » documented health disparities between men and women, and found that women’s health lags behind their male cohorts at five key stages of the life cycle:

  1. Birth to 5 years
  1. Adolescence (including implications of adolescent pregnancy)
  2. Reproductive years
  3. Post-reproductive years (menopause and greater risk for cancer among sex-based target organs)
  4. Advanced ageing (65-80 years).


In an effort to understand the system approaches that might reduce these disparities, WHO later examined the role of Constitutional law and local legislation ensuring the rights of women and children in light of their health outcomes, which subsequently formed the template for national laws in many nations, such as Nepal, Brazil, Malawi and Italy, discussed by WHO report Women and Children’s Health: Evidence of Impact of Human Rights. Progress despite recognition of this local and global problem has been slow.

Like sand along the riverbanks, nanomaterial exposure has been accruing in human bodies that use cosmetics daily, eat special foods that have nano-enabled packaging and endure various challlenges to the reproductive system. Whether for pleasure or as a requirement of their job, makeup is vital to women more often than men and throughout their lifetime. This strong but subtle exposure impacts women disproportionately compared to men, regardless of their age, ethnicity, demographics or their profession. Many personal care products are currently on the market but remarkably little is known about chemical makeup and exposure hazards. Many facets of women’s unique needs have been long ignored in the health research context, especially when science relies on male models as a benchmark. An implicit difference  between men and women regarding indirect commercial nanoparticle exposure for cosemtics and  skin care, and therefore a possible impact regarding cumulative use that cannot be captured for retrospective study but that may confound our understanding of health outcomes. This potential cumulative effect may be more complex than many synergistic effects that epidemiology has previously attempted to measure. Nanotechnolgy’s arrival in commerce and public health can revolutionize the field by breaking that cycle, if  clinical trials and long term epidemiological studies are pproached with forethought about  Women’s health disparities.  It remains unknown but an intriguing legislative policy question, to what extent nanotechnology in the workplace, applied to consumer products and in the ambient environment  will either exacerbate or remove those disparities.

Law and science have partnered together in the recent past, to solve major public health issues. The spectre of new economic frontiers with wider horizons for new products and the attendant commerce from their trade has caused many opinion leaders in science, law and health policy to herald nanotechnology as an unprecedented opportunity for human development and growth.  Together,  law and science have created and implemented policies that serve the greater social good ranging from preventing the threat of bankruptcy in the asbestos industry to averting the threat of nuclear holocaust. Historically, this partnership between law and science enables policymakers to write regulatory programs that incubate new industries and advance human development using new technologies,  in face of  unknown  but great risks. Partnership between law and science is particularly significant for nanotechnology,  which has been heralded as a revolution[1] for industry and commerce. Known dangers of many of the substances whose molecular structure are changed using nanotechnology has caused alarm among scientists and policymakers who fear that unfettered use of such new technologies can unleash a public health crisis.  Yet, lessons learned from the late twentieth century initiatives that funded “Big Science” teach us that governments  can use regulatory programs to superviseand  promote risky new technologies, without creating a new race of genetically -engineered monsters or blowing up the whole world. Wise people will therefore try to foresee inevitable but presently unknown nanotechnology risks. Then they will try to address these anticipated risks with best practices, codes of conduct and scientific principles to prevent harm under international law.


III. Research Statement or Hypothesis


Nanotechnology ‘s  revolution for commerce and industry can also hold the momentum for revolutionary positive change in  women’s  health care.


The sheer economic importance of nanotechnology will change several  antiquated systems regarding industrial processes, scientific understanding and categorization of chemical informatics, and ultimately, the health care delivery systems that must use or correct the end products of these changes anyway. Recognizing that nanotechnology is already here in hundreds of consumer products: tennis balls, cars, refrigerators, cameras, cosmetics, forethought is required about  cumulative doses that may impact public health  and the global disease burden absorbed by public health systems, Nanomedicine will require society to rethink ancient notions that are the building blocks of social constructs regarding the nature of disease and its treatment, and the prejudices encountered by people who suffer from illness, as it forces collective rethinking about  early diagnosis and prophylaxis of diseases. Miraculous developments that sound like science fiction to those people who eagerly anticipate these medical products, combined with the emerging social system for implementing rights of people with disabilities will reshape civil society– permanently. The present state of the art makes their promises sound more like ancient science fiction rather than scientific fact:  Nanomedicine is expected to change the shape of future diagnosis and treatment of circulatory diseases (such as myocardial infarction and stroke), some forms of cancer,  and even inflammatory diseases because highly sensitive diagnostics based on nanotechnology have the potential to detect small metabolic changes, thus offering information about disease progress at an unprecedentedly early stage. For example, improved analysis of nanscale quantitiess of blood, combined with molecular imaging technologies based on nanoscience are expected to detect and precisely localize disease processes like cancer.  Nanotech sensors may allow improved monitoring of patients  in intensive care units. Therapies targeting only diseased organs and cells  use nanometer size devices to repair damaged tissue[1]. Therefore, nanomedicine’s arrival in commerce provides an unprecedented excellent opportunity to change society for the better, especially benefiting the current efforts to reduce health disparaties between men and women.  .


  1. Nanotechnology’s Revolution for commerce Can Also Revolutionize Health Disparities

Nanomedicine has already begun to approach  diagnosis and treatment for common problems in women’s health including osteoporosis, menopause, breast masses and breast cancer, allergies, sports injuries, incontinence, anxiety and depression; to counsel patients about treatment options in contraception and therapeutic abortion; to diagnose and treat common skin problems in women and to discuss options in cosmetic dermatology; to assess and treat common sports injuries and musculoskeletal complaints in women; to better care for older patients presenting with osteoporosis, cerebrovascular disease, and chronic medical illnesses;.

Nanomedicine’s novel approach to diagnosis at the molecular level offers the prospect of detecting and locating diseases such as arteriosclerosis at an early stage, already applied for disease costly hospitalisation, improve recovery and enable some patients with previously untreatable or incurable illness to return to productive work, with a good quality of life.


  2. Book
  3. Video and App of book
  4. Major Conference, Beauty Babies and Dieting: The impact of Nanotechnology on Womens Health Disparities bringing together the top students from  research institute projects
  5. Course materials for summer institutes for Graduate students
    b) European Scientific Institute SafeNano Design
  7. c) nLaw Faculty in Biomedicine in Portugal


[1] Patrick Hunziker, CSO of the European Foundation for Clinical Nanomedicine, Nanomedicine: The Use of Nano-Scale Science for the Benefit of the Patient Nanomedicine: The use of nano-scale science for the benefit of the patient


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