Vegter, Mira, Drs.

The advent of nanomedicine: philosophical, ethical and societal issues of precision therapy

Institute of Science, Innovation & Society, Faculty of Science, Radboud University Nijmegen,

Supervisor(s): Professor Hub Zwart and Dr. Laurens Landeweerd


Bachelor Medicine at the University of Groningen
Master Philosophy, Bioethics and Health, at VU Amsterdam
MA-thesis Deliberative Ethics, Theory and Practice. The perspectives of Discourse Ethics and Moral Case Deliberation  (Discourse Ethics i.e. Jurgen Habermas.)


The Radboud Nanomedicine Alliance builds on intriguing and highly promising cutting-edge developments in nanoscience and molecular biomedicine to take up important societal challenges such as degenerative brain diseases. In doing so, it raises a number of issues that must be addressed and acknowledged from the very outset in order to optimally realise the potential benefits of nanomedicine for society. Although closely entangled, three types of issues can be distinguished, namely: philosophical, ethical and societal ones.

First, the Radboud Nanomedicine Alliance reflects the extent to which our views of nature and of technology are dramatically changing (Zwart 2010). On the one hand, new technologies aim to mimic nature as closely as possible, on a molecular level. At the same time, nature is being redefined in a technical manner, as Nature is regarded as an immense and highly sophisticated, large-scale, outdoor, in vivo laboratory, while cells and organisms are regarded as biological machines. These issues can only be addressed by asking philosophical questions in close proximity to the actual scientific work.
Secondly, these same nanotechnologies may also be used for other purposes, such as prevention or even enhancement. How to govern the possible uses of novel devices? Can we imagine in an anticipatory manner a possible future in which these new nanodevices play a role? How to manage and govern these applications?
Third and last is the question whether we are ready for this future and what role will nanomedicine play? But also: will nanomedicine live up to its promises? Overpromising (also in the context of previous ‘golden bullets’) may entail a credibility risk, so that “promise management” becomes an important part of “responsible research and innovation” (to use the European phrase, Chadwick & Zwart, 2013).