Nanotechnology in healthcare sparks interest while general awareness dwindles

A Harris Poll involving 2,467 U.S. adults has found nanotechnology awareness to be as miniscule as some of its parts, although opinions on the matter were surprisingly robust across the board.

Amongst the study group, which included Americans aged 18 and older, those falling within the sub-65 categories were at least slightly educated on the topic of nanotechnology (ranging from 37 percent to 46 percent proficiency) compared to the 65+ cohort (26 percent proficiency). But, interestingly enough, it was the latter demographic who was more optimistic about the subject matter, determining that the benefits outweighed the risks where nanotechnology was concerned (58 percent vs. 32-36 percent among other age groups). 

"Though it may initially seem counterintuitive, it actually makes sense that those aware of nanotechnology within the 65+ age group tend to believe that the benefits of nanotechnology will outweigh the risks, as the prevalence of worry in general tends to decline with age," said Kathleen Eggleson, MD, leader of the Nano Impacts Intellectual Community at the University of Notre Dame in a news release. "Older Americans also have firsthand experience with the emergence of many different technologies that have brought new benefits to their lives."

Partakers who claimed little knowledge of the nano realm were most interested in how it could be applied to healthcare; 63 percent found medicine to be the one area where they would most like to see such technology in action. More seasoned Americans minimally versed in nanotechnology were also particularly more interested than the other surveyed age groups in nano-gadgets being applied to healthcare (80-83 percent among those ages 50+, vs. 42-66 percent among younger groups).

Current nanotechnology endeavors in healthcare include North Carolina State University’s national nanotechnology research initiative, which aims to create self-powered devices that can monitor patient health and evaluate different environmental factors. According to, this “NSF Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST) is a collaborative initiative between NC State and partners, including the University of Virginia, Pennsylvania State University, and Florida International University.” The National Science Foundation has awarded ASSIST with an $18.5 million grant to be utilized over the next five years.

Other popular industries tackled in the Harris Poll where constituents said they would be most intrigued to find nanotechnology were energy production (59 percent), environmental clean-up (55 percent) and, of course, computers (54 percent).

Regional differences were identified by Harris Interactive analysts as fairly severe: Midwesterners (44 percent) were far more apt to report knowing "nothing at all" about nanotechnology when contrasted with other areas in the nation (East [33 percent], South [36 percent] or West [31 percent]). The optimism/pessimism spectrum showcased little variance at the regional level.

Regarding the mediums through which participants gathered information on nanotechnology, most cited television news programs (46-52 percent among those 50+, vs. 26-36 percent among younger groups) and newspapers (48 percent among those 65+, vs. 13-22 percent among younger age groups). Those within the 18-29 age bracket were more likely to receive their nano info from discussions with friends and family (36 percent, vs. 14-19 percent among other age groups). Analysts hope this information will be capitalized on by nano enthusiasts and marketers. 

"These data may help stakeholders nationwide make informed decisions, plan investments, and tailor education, advocacy and marketing efforts in the nanotechnology field," Peter Tomanovich, research director of healthcare at Harris Interactive, concluded in the news release.

The survey was online from June 18 to June 25, 2012.

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