DIT researchers investigate the safety of man-made nanoparticles on human cells

Dublin, 15 September, 2006: As Nanotechnology moves out of the research lab and into commercial products and markets, there is a growing need to evaluate the safety issues surrounding nanotechnology. At DIT a research project is currently underway called the "Compatibility of Nanoparticles and Biological Systems". This work aims to investigate the interaction of nanoparticles with human cell lines, to investigate compatibility and toxicity, as well as their potential influence on cell signalling.

The importance of this work has been brought to the forefront due to the use of nanoparticles in everyday consumer products such as sun screens and anti-scratch car paints. "In terms of public funding, Ireland is up there with the big guns of Japan and the US, and there are plenty of companies here who are using nanotechnology" says Dr. Maria Davoren, supervisor of the project and Postdoctoral Researcher at DIT's Radiation and Environmental Science Centre. "It just seemed right for us to start looking into nanotoxicology."

Currently there is limited knowledge on the toxicity or general health effects of engineered nanoparticles. Dr. Davoren warns, "It's important for everyone that the technology is safe and sustainable". A significant concern is that an agent's physical and chemical properties can change profoundly at the nanoscale because of increased particle number and surface area explains Dr. Davoren, "If the bulk material is safe then we shouldn't just accept the nanoparticle will be safe too."

To investigate the issue DIT has looked at the impact of nanotubes on human cells in the lab. Dr. Davoren is assisted by two PhD students on the project - Eva Herzog and Alan Casey. The basics of the research saw the team expose human lung cells to varying doses of carbon nanotubes in order to examine their physical and chemical inter-reactions. The results were startling in that the nanotubes were so reactive they interacted with the protein in the liquid food in which the cells were growing. In addition, the nanotubes soaked up the organic dyes that the scientists were using to assess the healthiness of the cells.

The research group modified their experiment to take into account the instability of the nanotubes. The news was good as they found that the realistic exposure doses of the nanotubes did not appear toxic to the lung cells. Dr. Davoren was relieved to conclude, "I'm glad to report we found very little toxicity".

The research group at DIT has moved to investigating the potential environmental impact of nanomaterials on cells from freshwater species. So far, the results again are positive in that little toxicity has been found says Dr. Davoren. The research group has presented their results to a number of International conferences and both Dr. Davoren and PhD student Eva Herzog are attending a TEM workshop in Spain, which is dedicated to review the basis of TEM (imaging and spectroscopic techniques) as well as their use in nanoparticle research.

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