Nanotechnology has enormous potential to transform science, but Europe will lose out to countries such as the US and Japan unless it can mount a coherent approach, scientists have warned.
"We really need a pan-European approach," said Ruth Duncan of the Centre for Polymer Therapeutics at Cardiff University. "If we compare what we are doing in Europe with Japan and the US we are somewhat fragmented."
Duncan said that in 2003 she was working with the European Medical Research Council, one of the scientific units of the European Science Foundation, to create a Forward Look programme on nano-medicines.
Around the same time the National Cancer Institute in the US started to review treating cancer with nanotechnology. By September 2004 the US scheme had become a $144m five-year plan to apply nanotechnology to cancer therapy.
"We published the report in November 2005 for Forward Look and we are still talking about it and we still don't know what the likelihood will be," said Duncan.
"Europe is a very young common economic community so it is very difficult for everything to be put together or to be done quickly."
This view is supported by the president of the European Science Foundation, Ian Halliday, who acknowledged that a more unifying approach for nano-science is difficult given the track record and nature of the European science community.
"It is much easier to think about your own lab, and thinking longer term is a challenge for everybody. How do we organise a European science model? There is a danger you will get into your own narrow specialisation," he said.
Halliday added that the prime example of how narrow specialisation has already cost Europe's lead in nano-science is evident in the healthcare field due to its "international competitive" nature.
This has led to the fragmentation of research activities from various European countries.
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