EU Science Hub

Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is a key enabling technology and has great potential for addressing societal challenges including energy supply and health care. Nonetheless, the use of nanomaterials also raises safety concerns, which need to be addressed in a Europe-wide regulatory context.

JRC scientists are contributing to the reduction of uncertainties about the potential impact of nanomaterials on health and the environment and are supporting the development of a sound regulatory framework by providing informed science-based advice. Research focuses on the development of methods for the detection and characterisation of nanomaterials and on in vitro testing methods to analyse the interaction of nanoparticles with cells and proteins.

EU regulations on consumer products such as food, cosmetics and biocides have specific provisions for nanomaterials. Such provisions for nanomaterials, e.g. ingredient labelling, have to be based on a regular definition of the term 'nanomaterial'. The JRC provides scientific and technical advice on the implementation of this definition and is working on methods for the detection and quantification of nanomaterials in consumer products such as cosmetics and food. To make information on nanomaterials easily accessible, JRC hosts the Web Platform on Nanomaterials.

Details on how nanomaterials are covered by EU legislation such as the chemicals legislation (REACH Regulation) are described in the Commission's Second Regulatory Review on Nanomaterials. Further information on policy issues is available on the Europa Website on Nanotechnologies.

Safety assessment of nanomaterials

The JRC is at the heart of EU efforts to understand and assess nanomaterials and participates in various collaborative research projects with European and international partners. Furthermore, its work on methods for assessing the safety of nanomaterials is closely connected to the OECD’s Test Guidelines Programme and its Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials. The JRC also collaborates with the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) and the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) regarding their activities on the characterisation of nanomaterials.

Interaction of nanomaterials with biological systems

Investigation of interactions between nanomaterials and biological systems is of utmost importance in understanding the potential risks arising from the use of nanomaterials. The JRC contributes to the development, adaptation and optimisation of suitable in vitro test methods for studying the interactions between cells and nanomaterials and to understand their potentially toxic effects. The research approach integrates conventional in vitro toxicology assays, appropriately adapted for nanomaterials testing, with mechanistic studies performed using advanced cell sensing, imaging and labelling techniques as well as large-scale screening tools such as transcriptomics, proteomics and metabonomics and high content image analysis.

Physico-chemical characterisation of nanomaterials

The JRC develops methods for the identification and characterisation of nanomaterials for a number of different reasons. Firstly, methods to implement the recommended EC nanomaterial definition are needed, i.e. determining whether a particulate material is a nanomaterial or not. Secondly, for the implementation of legislation on ingredient labelling, e.g. of cosmetics and food, methods for the detection and quantification of nanomaterials in complex matrices are required. Additionally, a thorough knowledge of the physico-chemical  characteristics of nanomaterials is of utmost importance in the study of nanomaterial interactions with living systems.

Tools and databases

The JRC provides scientific tools and databases in support of EU policy on nanotechnology and research projects, in particular:                    

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