Nanomaterials are changing the world – but we still do not have the appropriate safety tests for them


Nanotechnology could be one of the most discussed industries in the last few years. It is assumed that by the year 2025 it will amount to 173.95 billion dollars worldwide. This rapidly developing sector already provides major benefits for sustainability, health and well-being for society.

Nanomaterials, as the name implies, are very small, less than a millionth of a meter in size. They have unique physical and chemical properties that give them better properties, such as greater reactivity, power, electrical properties and functionality. Because of these advantages, nanomaterials are integrated into a wide range of consumer products. The automotive, computer, electronic, cosmetic, sports and healthcare industries benefit from innovation in nanotechnology. New areas, such as nanomedicine, have emerged that seek to dramatically improve our future ability to treat the disease.

But as exciting as it seems, as with any innovation, we must ensure that the effects on human health and the environment are taken into account. And this is not a simple task. Although standard hazard assessments are available for a wide range of things – such as chemical compounds – nanomaterials have unique properties and can not be accurately evaluated.

Environmental health and people

Nanomaterials are already entering our environment, albeit at a low level. They are found in waste water from products such as toothpaste, sun lotions and when objects such as nano silver socks (which prevent stink legs) rinse. Short-term environmental safety studies have also shown that many nanomaterials adsorb (form a thin film) on the surface of organisms – such as algae and water fleas – the epidermis. The materials are also arranged in the intestinal systems and in the bodies of small beings.

It is very important to tackle the potential adverse effects of nanomaterials before widespread environmental dispersion. At present, the long-term effects of exposure to nanomaterials on ecosystems are poorly understood. We also do not know the impact of exposure of nanomaterials on the food chain. They can affect eating rates, for example on the behavior and survival of different species.

We also do not know enough about how nanomaterials can affect people when exposed to low doses and in longer periods. The most important ways of exposure for humans are lungs, intestines and skin. Nanomaterials are embedded in food products and packaging, and workers can inhale or swallow them during production. Tests have shown that when nanomaterials enter the body, they become trapped in the liver, but we do not know what risk they represent in the long run.

The current standard safety tests that do not involve animals for the exposure of human lung, gut and skin are very simplified. For example, in order to determine the biological effect of inhalation of nanomaterials, scientists in the laboratory develop a single pulmonary system and expose it to nanomaterials suspended in the fluid. But in human lungs there are more than 40 different cell types. These types of tests can not accurately predict possible damage associated with exposure to nanomaterials. Neither accurately imitates the complexity of the human body or the way we encounter nanomaterials.

The next generation

The world has already experienced problems that new innovations can bring. According to the world experience of asbestos (which has been used for millennia, it was discovered only as a source of disease in the 20th century), the controversial development of genetically modified foods and the very current crisis of microplastics is an urgent advance in nanotechnology does not lead to similar health crises.

Our research team is now working to improve nanotechnology tests with the PATROLS project funded by Horizon 2020. t By combining leading international experts in nanoscopy, ecotoxicology, tissue engineering and computer modeling from around the world, we want to build on the best international practice and address the current limitations testing.

We already accept state-of-the-art science for the development of advanced models of tissues of the lungs, gut and liver to assess the safety of nanomaterials. We are working on new safety assessment methods for environmentally important test systems and organisms (including algae, water fleas and zebras) that have been selected according to their position in the food chain. The next generation of non-animal tests is also intended to reduce dependence on animal tests, while promoting the responsible development of the nanotechnology industry.

In addition, we strive to create a way to predict the safety of human and environmental nanomaterials based on computer models. This will allow you to view new nanomaterials using a computer database as an initial security check before further testing.

By improving nanotechnology tests that do not involve animals, we can help protect consumers, workers and the environment from any risks to health or safety that could cause them. Nanotechnology has already shown that it can improve our lives and, with a better understanding of their safety, we can more reliably enjoy the benefits of this new technology.


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