More testing needed to ensure safety of nanotechnology.

Oct 28, 2008

Harper, SL, C Usenko, JE Hutchison, BLS Maddux and RL Tanguay. 2008. In vivo biodistribution and toxicity depends on nanomaterial composition, size, surface functionalization and route of exposure. Journal of Experimental Nanoscience 3:195-206.

Synopsis by Stacey L. Harper

Scientists believe more information about how nanomaterials act in living things is needed to ensure that new consumer products made with the smallest of particles do not lead to unwanted health and environmental consequences. A new way to test nanomaterials suggests that the toxicity of each type is determined by very different factors.

Generalizations about how different nanomaterials behave in plants, animals and humans should be avoided as each type can produce different effects in living organisms, say researchers who study the safety of these very small particles that are increasingly used in consumer products.

Major concerns about their safety are on the rise because studies showing how these new materials interact with people, animals and the environment are lagging behind their rapid commercialization.

In this study, scientists tested many different types of nanomaterials using a small aquarium fish (zebrafish), and report that the size, type and chemical makeup of nanomaterials, in part, determines how they will impact living things.

The way that the nanomaterials get into living systems - through eating, breathing or absorbed through the skin - also makes a difference in how they behave.

Scientists now concede that much more information is needed to ensure that new consumer products made with nanomaterials do not lead to unwanted health and environmental consequences.

Already, more than 600 consumer products have exploited the unique properties of nanoscale materials. Rapid testing strategies, such as those developed using zebrafish, will be required to understand the specific features of nanomaterials that make them safer and perform better.