Nanotoxicology - new branch of learning

August 30, 2004

Nanotechnology, the 'science of small things' is set to bring huge advantages in engineering, electronics, medicine and IT-- but the potential threats to health that widespread use of nanoparticles could bring need to be scrutinised, says a University of Edinburgh expert in this month's edition of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Professor Ken Donaldson, a lung toxicology expert and Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University, calls for a new discipline--nanotoxicology-- to be built up, to address knowledge gaps and to help develop a safe nanotechnology. He wants guidelines to be developed to test all materials in the nanoscale where human health could be involved.

Professor Donaldson says: "We believe that efforts to untangle science and science fiction regarding the risks from nanotechnology are needed and that a focus on the potential harmful effects of nanoparticles is both timely and necessary. The importance of nanotechnology to the economy and to our future wellbeing is beyond debate, but its potential adverse impacts need to be studied along the same lines. A discipline of nanotoxicology would make an important contribution to the development of a sustainable and safe nanotechnology .

He added: "Our current knowledge of the toxicology of nanoparticles and nanotubes (tiny carbon tubes) is poor but suggests that nanoparticles may be able to have undesirable effects at their point of entry into the body, for example, the lungs, and might also be able to affect other organs. Nanoparticles in food may cross into the gut lymphatic system and so reach other organs more easily than larger particles do. Inhaled nanoparticles have been reported to travel from nasal nerves to the brain, a phenomenon seen with some viruses similar in size to nanoparticles."

Nanoparticles, materials the size of millionths of a millimetre, are already present in large numbers in the air from natural sources and from vehicle exhaust emissions. They are also found in sunblocks, boot polish, tyres and photocopier toner. In future, however, they may be used in clothing manufacture, to purify water, clean up contaminated ground, deliver drugs to specific parts of the body or be used as tiny security sensors.

Source: University of Edinburgh

Explore further: To untangle the effects of nanoparticles on microbes, look at the genes

Related Stories

New long-acting approach for malaria therapy developed

January 22, 2018

A new study, published in Nature Communications, conducted by the University of Liverpool and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine highlights a new 'long acting' medicine for the prevention of malaria.

Recommended for you

Researchers find tweeting in cities lower than expected

February 20, 2018

Studying data from Twitter, University of Illinois researchers found that less people tweet per capita from larger cities than in smaller ones, indicating an unexpected trend that has implications in understanding urban pace ...

Reaching new heights in laser-accelerated ion energy

February 20, 2018

A laser-driven ion acceleration scheme, developed in research led at the University of Strathclyde, could lead to compact ion sources for established and innovative applications in science, medicine and industry.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.