Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology

Nanotechnology is widely perceived as one of the key technologies of the 21st century and accordingly there have been huge advances and increased funding in global technological research on nanomaterials. An ever increasing range of potential nanotechnology applications and higher production rates will undoubtedly result in increased human and environmental exposure; hence there is growing consensus among scientists, regulators, industry and the public that we need to know more about the possible harmful or adverse effects of nanoparticles on human health and the environment.

There is an urgent need for researchers and industry to address this issue, as negative public opinion has the potential to adversely affect the development of nanotechnology as an emerging industry (as experienced with the GM food industry). It is therefore imperative that toxicological research to evaluate the biocompatibility and possible adverse effects on both the health of humans and the environment is conducted concomitantly with technological research and development on nanomaterials and the results of such research are communicated to all stakeholders in an open and transparent manner.


Lung tissue after exposure to single wall carbon nanotubes (CWNT's)
Green regions show the production of reactive oxygen species

Humans have been exposed to airborne ultrafine particles (UFPs) throughout their evolutionary stages; however, such exposure has increased significantly over the last century due to anthropogenic sources.

The rapidly developing field of nanotechnology is likely to become yet another source from exposure to a range of materials incorporating nanotechnology such as paints, cosmetics, electronics, clothing, food, medicines, diagnostics etc. Depending on their planned application these engineered nanomaterials may be inhaled, ingested, absorbed through the skin or intentionally injected in a medical procedure. In addition while there are many proposed potential beneficial outcomes of nanotechnology on the environment (remediation, self-cleaning surfaces) there is currently a paucity of data to know for sure if these materials could have undesirable effects on the environment.

Nanotoxicology, the study of the toxicity of these nanomaterials is therefore a rapidly developing research discipline which is essential to the development of a sustainable and safe nanotechnology.