Smarter toxicity testing for novel nanomaterials
EU-funded researchers are developing tools to analyse and predict the potential toxicity of nanomaterials, addressing scientific, environmental and public health concerns about exposure to these novel tiny particles found in cosmetics and other products.
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Nanomaterials are formed of individual particles each measuring around one billionth of a metre smaller than the diameter of a single strand of human DNA a scale at which they display unique optical, electronic and mechanical properties.
This makes them invaluable for a variety of modern applications in many industries, including in technology, cosmetics, food and healthcare, where custom-designed nanomaterials are being developed to detect and diagnose genetic and life-threatening diseases. But nanomaterials unusual properties can also have inadvertent adverse effects on human cells and organs.
Some common industrial materials such as asbestos or quartz dust are known to cause direct damage to human lungs when inhaled. But the impact of exposure to other nanomaterials can be indirect, delayed and complicated, and many effects remain poorly understood.
SMARTNANOTOX researchers in eight European countries are developing tools and techniques to accurately predict nanotoxicity by identifying the mechanisms associated with interactions between nanomaterials and living organisms.
Through experiments, the team aims to determine the connection between nanomaterial properties and different adverse effects for varying degrees and periods of exposure.
The SMARTNANOTOX teams systems biology and molecular modelling approach will be supported by statistical analysis and computational models, enabling different types of nanomaterials to be grouped according to their properties and interaction mechanisms.
The data will then be used to generate an accurate scale of the potential toxicity of a nanomaterial without the need for costly and time-consuming testing of each material. As a result, SMARTNANOTOX aims to reduce the need for blanket toxicity testing and animal experiments and improve the assessment of new nanomaterials, enabling development that embraces safety by design.