Toxicological Effects and Screening of Engineered Nanoparticles


Ken Donaldson Queens Medical Research Institute, University of Edinburgh

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Recent years have witnessed an unprecedented growth in research in the area of nanoscience and nanotechnology. The applications of nanotechnology will affect and improve almost every aspect of our lives from information technology to fabrics, finishes and materials generally. Most of these involve nanotechnological applications where there is no tangible direct health risk from exposure to the nanomaterial during manufacture or use. For instance, there is an increasing optimism that use of nanoparticles (NPs) in medicine will bring significant advances in the diagnosis and treatment of major diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular (CV) diseases. Anticipated applications include use of NP (particles <100 nm in diameter) for drug delivery and diagnosis, and in nutraceuticals and production of biocompatible materials. The reason why NPs are attractive for such purposes is based on important and unique features, such as their surface-to-mass ratio, which are much larger than that of other particles, their quantum properties, and their ability to adsorb and carry other compounds. NPs have a large (functional) surface, which is able to bind, adsorb, and carry other compounds such as drugs, probes, and proteins.

Engineered NPs are important tools to realize a number of these applications in nanotechnology but may have the potential to get airborne resulting in human exposure or spread into the environment. As little is known about the hazards of these new materials, the emergence of nanotechnology has also initiated the debate on how these materials should be classified, tested, and used. The specific challenge for toxicologists is to understand the hazards associated with NP exposure and use this to determine and manage the risk to individuals who are exposed, to minimize adverse effects on health.

This article first concentrates on the health hazards of NPs upon different exposure routes (lung, skin, and oral). Subsequently, it anticipates to translate the know-how on effects of combustion-derived NPs (CDNPs) in ambient atmosphere to testing strategies that may be used for engineered NPs.