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Policies for frontier science and new technologies

Contact Central European University for this project

Judit Sandor
Center for Ethics and Law in Biomedicine

Center for Media and Communication Studies

Central European University

The research targets the challenge of adjusting legislation to ethical and related dilemmas arising in relation to the rapid development of science, technology and communications including bio- and nano-technology and new ICT. Some of the areas where new legal thinking is required include biobanks, biotechnology, euthanasia, GM food, cloning, genetic testing and screening, medically assisted reproduction, organ transplantation, stem cell research, ethics and law in psychiatry, nanotechnology, and patients¿ rights, regulation of the Internet, digital rights and new media.

1. Biobanks
In the field of research activities, one of the most significant developments has been to launch a legal research project on biobanks and data protection that involves thirteen countries of Europe. This research is a part of GeneBanC, a project financed by the European Commission. The main field of research within this project is mapping the legal landscape of forensic biobanks in Europe. In addition to the methods of using detailed questionnaires we have also conducted on-site interviews. Genebanks require a new interpretation of established legal terms, such as property, ownership, or personality, and they require the development of a new legal approach in this specific field of biomedical research and data protection.

2. Ethical and legal issues of stem cell research
During the past academic year, the Center has also worked out new research fields and submitted several applications to the European Commission jointly with prestigious research networks. As a result, three entirely new projects will start from the beginning of 2008. One of the promising new research projects, REMEDiE (Regenerative Medicine in Europe: Emerging Needs and Challenges in a Global Context) will start in 2008 and last for 36 months. This is a collaborative project that will examine the socio-economic, political and bioethical implications for Europe and future global developments in the field of regenerative medicine. It will adopt an interdisciplinary approach, bringing together researchers from the social sciences and humanities, to understand the emerging needs, expectations, and challenges that Europe faces. The project is conceptually and methodologically innovative, empirically robust, and policy relevant.

3. Nanotechnology
Another new and exciting research area is the ethics of nanotechnology. When in the 1980s Eric Drexler first used the word ¿nanotechnology¿, he was talking about building machines on the scale of molecules, that is, a few nanometers: tiny motors, miniscule robot arms, and nanocomputers. Since then nanotechnology has become an accepted concept and the meaning of the word shifted to encompass the various types of nanometer-scale technology. Starting from the 2007¿2008 academic year, CELAB will participate in NANOPLAT, another research project financed by the European Commission. The project will concentrate on deliberative processes concerning human and environmental safety, ethical and moral dilemmas, and perception of risks and responsibilities.

4. Biolaw-database
Another major achievement is the renewed Biolaw database launched by CELAB. Starting from the 2007¿2008 academic year students, researchers, and partners can see not only a more user-friendly research tool but also thousands of new items that are regularly uploaded into the database, and last but not least, visitors will enjoy an entirely new design.

Relevance to future of European societies
The European society is posed to face legal and ethical challenges associated with scientific and technological developments. Cultural attitudes and related legal regimes are currently widely different across Europe but may need to mutually engage in the near future.
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