Data dialogues: Critical connections for designing and implementing future nanomaterial research
Individuals and organizations in the engineered nanomaterial (ENM) community have increasingly recognized two related but distinct concerns: (1) Discordant data due to differences in experimental design (e.g., material characteristics, experimental model, and exposure concentration) or reporting (e.g., dose metric and material characterization details), and (2) a lack of data to inform decisions about ENM environmental, health, and safety (EHS). As one way to help address these issues, this Commentary discusses the important role of “data dialogues” or structured discussions between ENM researchers in EHS fields (e.g., toxicology, exposure science, and industrial hygiene) and decision makers who use the data researchers’ collect. The importance of these structured discussions is examined here in the context of barriers, solutions, and incentives: barriers to developing research relevant for human and ecological risk assessments; potential solutions to overcome such barriers; and incentives to help implement these or other solutions. These barriers, solutions, and incentives were identified by a group of expert stakeholders and ENM community members at the December 2013 Society for Risk Analysis panel discussion on research needed to support decision making for multiwalled carbon nanotubes. Key topics discussed by experts and ENM community members include: (1) The value of researchers collaborating with EHS decision makers (e.g., risk analysts, product developers, and regulators) to design research that can inform ENM EHS-related decisions (e.g., occupational exposure limits and product safety determinations), (2) the importance of funding incentives for such collaborative research, (3) the need to improve mechanisms for data sharing within and between sectors (e.g., academia, government, and industry), and (4) the critical need to educate the “next generation” of nanotechnology researchers in EHS topics (e.g., risk assessment, risk management). In presenting these outcomes, this Commentary is not intended to conclude the conversation that took place in December 2013 but rather to support a broader dialogue that helps ensure important risk assessment questions are answered for ENMs.