Tag Archives: nanosunscreens

Nanotechnology Policy and Regulation in Canada, Australia, the European Union, the UK, and the US: a timeline for us all

The Timeline: Nanotechnology Policy and Regulation in Canada, Australia, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States (PDF; h/t July 10, 2014 news item on Nanowerk) issued by the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy (ISSP) takes as its starting point the invention of the field emission microscope in 1936 by Erwin Wilhelm Müller.

This fascinating 40 pp document seems comprehensive to me. While the title suggests otherwise, there are a few mentions of events involving Asian countries and they also include the Berkeley bylaw governing nanotechnology manufacture in the city. From the Timeline, p. 16 (Note: The formatting has been changed significantly),

The City of Berkeley (US)
December 2006

The Berkeley Municipal Code is amended to introduce new measures regarding manufactured nanomaterial health and safety

These amendments require facilities that manufacture or use nanomaterials to disclose in writing which nanomaterials are being used as well as the current toxicology of the materials reported (to the extent known) and to further describe how the facility will safely handle, monitor, contain, dispose, track inventory, prevent releases and mitigate such materials.

Berkeley is currently the only municipal government in the United States to regulate nanotechnology

While searching a month ago (June 2014), I was having difficulty finding information online about the Berkeley bylaw, so this was a delightful surprise.

There is (arguably) an omission and that is the Yale Law School Cultural Cognition Project. The Yale researchers have done some influential work about emerging technologies, including a special nanotechnology project devised in the aftermath of the Berkeley bylaw. Their focus then and now has been on public perceptions and attitudes as they affect policy.

Given how many public perception projects there have been and the timeline’s specific focus on regulation and policy, it’s understandable that not many have been included in the timeline.

Still, I was curious to see if the 2012 nanosunscreen debacle in Australia would be included in the timeline. It was not and, given that this incident didn’t directly involve policy or regulation, it’s understandable. Still, I would like to suggest its inclusion in future iterations. (For the curious, my Feb. 9, 2012 posting titled: Unintended consequences: Australians not using sunscreens to avoid nanoparticles? offers a summary and links to this story about an Australian government survey and some unexpected and dismaying results.)

The timeline appears to have a publication date of April 2014 and was compiled by Alin Charrière and Beth Dunning. It is a ‘living’ document so it will be updated in the future. If you have any comments, [email protected] (I will be sending mine soon.)

It is one of a series which includes two other technologies, Synthetic biology and Bioenergy, at this point (July 10, 2014). You can go here for more about the ISSP.

Finally, bravo and bravo to Charrière and Dunning for a job well done.

Nanoscale metal oxides and lung cells

Bear in mind while reading further that all of this research has not taken place in any situation resembling real life conditions: researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T; located in the US) have found that metal oxides at the nanoscale can be highly toxic to human lung cells according to a Jan. 28, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Nanoparticles are used in all kinds of applications — electronics, medicine, cosmetics, even environmental clean-ups. More than 2,800 commercially available applications are now based on nanoparticles, and by 2017, the field is expected to bring in nearly $50 billion worldwide.

But this influx of nanotechnology is not without risks, say researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

“There is an urgent need to investigate the potential impact of nanoparticles on health and the environment,” says Yue-Wern Huang, professor of biological sciences at Missouri S&T.

Huang and his colleagues have been systematically studying the effects of transition metal oxide nanoparticles on human lung cells (“Cytotoxicity in the age of nano: The role of fourth period transition metal oxide nanoparticle physicochemical properties”). These nanoparticles are used extensively in optical and recording devices, water purification systems, cosmetics and skin care products, and targeted drug delivery, among other applications.

The Jan. 27, 2014 Missouri S&T news release by Linda Fulps, which originated the news item, describes the research in more detail,

“In their typical coarse powder form, the toxicity of these substances is not dramatic,” says Huang. “But as nanoparticles with diameters of only 16-80 nanometers, the situation changes significantly.”

The researchers exposed both healthy and cancerous human lung cells to nanoparticles composed of titanium, chromium, manganese, iron, nickel, copper and zinc compounds — transition metal oxides that are on the fourth row of the periodic table. The researchers discovered that the nanoparticles’ toxicity to the cells, or cytotoxicity, increased as they moved right on the periodic table.

“About 80 percent of the cells died in the presence of nanoparticles of copper oxide and zinc oxide,” says Huang. “These nanoparticles penetrated the cells and destroyed their membranes. The toxic effects are related to the nanoparticles’ surface electrical charge and available docking sites.”

Huang says that certain nanoparticles released metal ions — called ion dissolution — which also played a significant role in cell death.

Huang is now working on new research that may help reduce nanoparticles’ toxicity and shed light on how nanoparticles interact with cells.

“We are coating toxic zinc oxide nanoparticles with non-toxic nanoparticles to see if zinc oxide’s toxicity can be reduced,” Huang says. “We hope this can mitigate toxicity without compromising zinc oxide’s intended applications. We’re also investigating whether nanoparticles inhibit cell division and influence cell cycle.”

Concerning results? Yes. But, before determining how alarmed you should be, there are a few questions you might want to ask while reading the news release and/or the research paper :

  1. How were these cells exposed to the metal nanoparticles? ‘Breathing’ or were they sitting in a solution?
  2. What was the concentration of metal nanoparticles? (even good things can be bad for you at high concentrations)

This isn’t an attempt to dismiss the findings but rather to point out how much painstaking research has to take place before conclusions of any kind can be drawn. It’s why scientists tend to quite careful in their comments.

In looking at this work, I was reminded of the research into ‘nanosunscreens’ and concerns about the metal oxide nanoparticles (zinc oxides and/or titanium dioxide) penetrating the skin barrier and building up to toxic levels in the body.  In an Oct. 4, 2012 posting about zinc oxide nanoparticles and penetrating the skin barrier, I mentioned this in the context of some then recent research at Bath University (UK),

I missed the fact that this study was an in vitro test, which is always less convincing than in vivo testing. In my Nov. 29, 2011 posting about some research into nano zinc oxide I mentioned in vitro vs. in vivo testing and Brian Gulson’s research,

I was able to access the study and while I’m not an expert by any means I did note that the study was ‘in vitro’, in this case, the cells were on slides when they were being studied. It’s impossible to draw hard and fast conclusions about what will happen in a body (human or otherwise) since there are other systems at work which are not present on a slide.

… here’s what Brian Gulson had to say about nano zinc oxide concentrations in his work and about a shortcoming in his study (from an Australian Broadcasting Corporation [ABC] Feb. 25, 2010 interview with Ashley Hall,

BRIAN GULSON: I guess the critical thing was that we didn’t find large amounts of it getting through the skin. The sunscreens contain 18 to 20 per cent zinc oxide usually and ours was about 20 per zinc. So that’s an awful lot of zinc you’re putting on the skin but we found tiny amounts in the blood of that tracer that we used.

ASHLEY HALL: So is it a significant amount?

BRIAN GULSON: No, no it’s really not.

ASHLEY HALL: But Brian Gulson is warning people who use a lot of sunscreen over an extended period that they could be at risk of having elevated levels of zinc.

BRIAN GULSON: Maybe with young children where you’re applying it seven days a week, it could be an issue but I’m more than happy to continue applying it to my grandchildren.

ASHLEY HALL: This study doesn’t shed any light on the question of whether the nano-particles themselves played a part in the zinc absorption.

BRIAN GULSON: That was the most critical thing. This isotope technique cannot tell whether or not it’s a zinc oxide nano-particle that got through skin or whether it’s just zinc that was dissolved up in contact with the skin and then forms zinc ions or so-called soluble ions. So that’s one major deficiency of our study.

Of course, I have a question about Gulson’s conclusion  that very little of the nano zinc oxide was penetrating the skin based on blood and urine samples taken over the course of the study. Is it possible that after penetrating the skin it was stored in the cells  instead of being eliminated?

Here’s a link to and a citation for Yue-Wern Huang and his team’s latest research,

Cytotoxicity in the age of nano: The role of fourth period transition metal oxide nanoparticle physicochemical properties by Charles C. Chusuei, Chi-Heng Wu, Shravan Mallavarapu, Fang Yao Stephen Hou, Chen-Ming Hsu, Jeffrey G. Winiarz, Robert S. Aronstam, Yue-Wern Huang. Chemico-Biological Interactions, Volume 206, Issue 2, 25 November 2013, Pages 319–326.

This paper is behind a paywall.

Anatase and rutile titanium dioxide and nanosunscreens

The American Chemical Society (ACS) features some research into nanoscreens and the anatase form of titanium dioxide in a Sept. 25, 2013 news release,,

Using a particular type of titanium dioxide — a common ingredient in cosmetics, food products, toothpaste and sunscreen — could reduce the potential health risks associated with the widely used compound. The report on the substance, produced by the millions of tons every year for the global market, appears in the ACS journal Chemical Research in Toxicology.
Francesco Turci and colleagues explain that titanium dioxide (TiO2) is generally considered a safe ingredient in commercially available skin products because it doesn’t penetrate healthy skin. But there’s a catch. Research has shown that TiO2 can cause potentially toxic effects when exposed to ultraviolet light, which is in the sun’s rays and is the same kind of light that the compound is supposed to offer protection against. To design a safer TiO2 for human use, the researchers set out to test different forms of the compound, each with its own architecture.

They tested titanium dioxide powders on pig skin (which often substitutes for human skin in these kinds of tests) with indoor lighting, which has very little ultraviolet light in it. They discovered that one of the two most commonly used crystalline forms of TiO2, called rutile, easily washes off and has little effect on skin. Anatase, the other commonly used form, however, was difficult to wash off and damaged the outermost layer of skin — even in low ultraviolet light. It appears to do so via “free radicals,” which are associated with skin aging. “The present findings strongly encourage the use of the less reactive, negatively charged rutile to produce safer TiO2-based cosmetic and pharmaceutical products,” the researchers conclude.

It should be noted that the researchers used pig skin, i.e., the skin was not on a pig and, therefore, not part of a living organism with its various biological systems coming into play. As well, the testing was done indoors not under direct sunlight which is the condition under which most of us use sunscreen. This research points to problems  with using anatase nanoscale titanium dioxide in sunscreens but it doesn’t provide unequivocal proof.

The Danish Environmental Protection Agency report (this Oct. 3, 2013 posting of mine) on the state of the art of research into nanomateial dermal absorption does refer to research in this area, although it does not include Turci’s work (Note: The numbers n the excerpted text are reference numbers for the bibliography)),

When looking at bulk composition and the level of dermal penetration noted in studies using a specific material type, there appears to be very little pattern between bulk composition and penetration depth. Taking for example TiO2 as one of the most widely studied nanoparticles, we see reports of penetration no further than the SC [subcutaneous skin layer] 78, 86, 91 but also several studies suggesting deeper penetration (basal cell layer) and even penetration into the dermis 63, 84 although this is often reported as being a very small fraction/infrequent. Another compositional issue in relation to nanoparticles and in particular TiO2 is the crystalline structure. TiO2 is often used in either its anatase or rutile form or as mixture of both. Within the literature, there are studies using both the anatase form 86, 94, the rutile form 91, 114 or a mixture 84, 114 although we were unable to find any studies which appear to systematically evaluate the role of crystal form in TiO2 absorption into the skin. [emphasis mine] (p. 44 of this report: Dermal Absorption of Nanomaterials Part of the ”Better control of nano” initiative 2012 – 2015 Environmental Project No. 1504, 2013).

For those who would like to read Turci’s research for themselves,

Crystalline Phase Modulates the Potency of Nanometric TiO2 to Adhere to and Perturb the Stratum Corneum of Porcine Skin under Indoor Light by Francesco Turci, Elena Peira, Ingrid Corazzari, Ivana Fenoglio, Michele Trotta, and Bice Fubini. Chem. Res. Toxicol., Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/tx400285j Publication Date (Web): September 12, 2013
Copyright © 2013 American Chemical Society

This research is behind a paywall.

Amid controversies, Australian government spends big bucks on Australian Institute for Nanoscience

Kim Carr, Australia’s Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, delivered  an extraordinary speech, by Canadian standard (ours tend to remarkable blandness), at the sod-turning event for the new Australian Institute for Nanoscience (AIN) due to open in May 2015. Before getting to the speech, here’s a bit more about the event from a July 24, 2013 news item on Global Times,

Australian government will deliver a fund for the new Australian Institute for Nanoscience ( AIN) which will open in May 2015 to boost its research of nanotechnology, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Kim Carr confirmed in a statement after breaking the ground for the new facility at the University of Sydney on Wednesday.

The AIN project is a major new building combining research laboratories with teaching facilities to drive cross-disciplinary collaboration to develop nanomaterials and devices.

The July 24, 2013 Australian government media release about the AIN sod-turning provides more details about the government’s investment in the institute and its backing of nanoscience/nanotechnology research,

Senator Kim Carr said the Australian Government’s $40 million contribution, through the Education Investment Fund, to assist in the facility’s construction backs in Labor’s commitment to giving our researchers the tools they need to pursue world-leading work.

“Nanotechnology is a transformative force for manufacturing and is predicted to be worth $US3 trillion globally by 2020. Australia needs to stake a claim to our slice of that pie now, by building well-researched prototypes for the market. AIN will help make that happen and keep Australian research internationally competitive.”

Senator Carr said AIN will increase our national research capability by bringing together world-class nanoscience researchers across three main areas:

  • New medical diagnostics and therapies combining quantum technology with imaging and drug delivery and solutions such as a fully implantable bionic eye;
  • Faster, more secure and more efficient communications based on photonics and quantum science technologies; and
  • Revolutionary optical instrumentation to explore the frontiers of our universe, along with faster data processing technologies for the SKA.

I’m not sure where Carr got the “… worth $US3 trillion globally by 2020″ number for nanotechnology’s impact on the global economy. More interesting to me, are these comments from Carr’s speech (you can find the entire speech here),

It is a great pleasure to share in the progress of the Australian Institute for Nanoscience here at Sydney University.

Three years have passed since I announced the funding for this facility:

$40 million from the Federal Government;

backed by $71 million from the university;

and a further $20 million from other sources, including the New South Wales government, the Australian National Fabrication Facility; the ARC’s CUDOS; the Australian Astronomical Observatory and Bandwidth Foundry International.

It was one of the many projects made possible by the Education Investment Fund – which, over three rounds, secured a total of $3.5 billion in new research infrastructure for a federal contribution of $1.5 billion.

This is an impressive return on investment.

At that time, this was the sort of research guaranteed to bring out the anti-science crowd.

There were beat-ups in the press, demonstrations in universities, and scare campaigns run on worksites. [emphasis mine]

It was as if the Enlightenment had never happened. It was as if nanoscience was some kind of global conspiracy to kill us all with sunscreen. [emphasis mine]

But I saw this project differently. And I put my views on the record at the time this investment was announced.

As I said back then:

“I don’t begin by saying “this is too strange” or “this is too hard”. I don’t begin by saying “no”.

I begin by asking, “what’s in it for Australia?” – “what’s in it for the people we serve?” – and “how can we make this work?”

The speech continues with a very optimistic view of all the economic benefits to be derived from an investment in nanoscience/nanotechnology.

Given the extreme lack of interest in Canada and its very odd (or perhaps it’s a harbinger of the future?) almost unknown National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT), which exists on a NINT University of Alberta website and on a NINT National Research Council website, the “beat-ups in the press, etc.” provide a fascinating and contrasting socio-cultural perspective. The difference is perhaps due to a very active, both in Australia and internationally, Friends of the Earth group.

Friends of the Earth Australia campaigned long (years) and hard against nanosunscreens in a leadup to some rather disturbing survey findings in 2012 (my Feb. 9, 2012 posting) where some 13% of Australians, first reported as 17%,  didn’t use any sunscreens whatsoever, due to their fear of ‘nanosunscreens’.

Kim Carr has been mentioned here before in an Aug. 26, 2011 posting which highlighted a study showing  Australians held positive (?) attitudes towards nanotechnology and those attitudes had gotten more positive over time. My guess, not having looked at the study, is that the study focussed on areas where people usually express positive attitudes (e. g. better health care with less invasive medical procedures) and not on environmental issues (e.g. nanosilver in your clothing washing off and ending up in the water supply).

I do love how elected officials, the world over, pick and choose their ‘facts’.

Natural and engineered nanoparticles in an Orion magazine podcast & in a NanoBosc machinima piece

The Jan. 16, 2013 Orion magazine podcast discussion (more about that later) regarding safety and engineered and natural nanoparticles arose from an article (worth reading) by Heather Millar in the magazine’s January/February 2013 issue, Pandora’s Boxes.

For anyone familiar with the term ‘Pandora’s box’, Millar’s and the magazine’s bias is made clear immediately, nanoparticles are small and threatening. From the Pandora’s box Wikipedia essay,

Today, the phrase “to open Pandora’s box” means to perform an action that may seem small or innocuous, but that turns out to have severe and far-reaching consequences. [emphases mine]

Millar’s article is well written and offers some excellent explanations. For example, there’s this from Pandora’s Boxes,

So chemistry and physics work differently if you’re a nanoparticle. You’re not as small as an atom or a molecule, but you’re also not even as big as a cell, so you’re definitely not of the macro world either. You exist in an undiscovered country somewhere between the molecular and the macroscopic. Here, the laws of the very small (quantum mechanics) merge quirkily with the laws of the very large (classical physics). Some say nanomaterials bring a third dimension to chemistry’s periodic table, because at the nano scale, long-established rules and groupings don’t necessarily hold up.

Then, she has some dodgier material,

Yet size seems to be a double-edged sword in the nanoverse. Because nanoparticles are so small, they can slip past the body’s various barriers: skin, the blood-brain barrier, the lining of the gut and airways. Once inside, these tiny particles can bind to many things. They seem to build up over time, especially in the brain. Some cause inflammation and cell damage. Preliminary research shows this can harm the organs of lab animals, though the results of some of these studies are a matter of debate.

Some published research has shown that inhaled nanoparticles actually become more toxic as they get smaller. Nano–titanium dioxide, one of the most commonly used nanoparticles (Pop-Tarts, sunblock), has been shown to damage DNA in animals and prematurely corrode metals. Carbon nanotubes seem to penetrate lungs even more deeply than asbestos. [emphases mine]

I think it’s worth ‘unpacking’ these two paragraphs, so here goes.  Slipping past the body’s barriers is a lot more difficult than Millar suggests in the first paragraph. My July 4, 2012 posting on breakthough research  where they penetrated the skin barrier includes this comment from me,

After all the concerns  about nanosunscreens and nanoparticles penetrating the skin raised by civil society groups, the Friends of the Earth in particular, it’s interesting to note that doctors and scientists consider penetration of the skin barrier to be extremely difficult. Of course, they seem to have solved [as of July 2012] that problem which means the chorus of concerns may rise to new heights.

I had a followup in my Oct.3, 2012 posting titled, Can nanoparticles pass through the skin or not?, suggesting there’s still a lot of confusion about this topic even within the scientific community.

Moving on to the other ‘breaches’. As I recall, there was a recent  (Autumn 2012?) nanomedicine research announcement that the blood-brain barrier was breached by nanoparticles. I haven’t yet encountered any mention of breaching the gut and I mention lungs in my next paragraph where I discuss carbon nanotubes.

As for that second paragraph, it’s an example of scaremongering. ‘Inhaled nanoparticles become more toxic as their size decreases’—ok. Why mention nano-titanium oxide in pop tarts and sunblocks, which are not inhaled, in the followup sentence? As for the reference to DNA damage and corroded metals further on, this is straight out of the Friends of the Earth literature which often cites research in a misleading fashion including those two pieces.  There is research supporting part of Millar’s statement about carbon nanotubes—provided they are long and multiwalled. In fact, as they get shorter, the resemblance to asbestos fibers in the lungs or elsewhere seems to disappear as per my Aug 22, 2012 posting and my Jan. 16, 2013 posting.

You don’t need to read the article before listening to the fascinating Jan. 16, 2013 Orion magazine podcast with Millar (reading portions of her article) and expert guests, Mark Wiesner from Duke University and director of their Center for Environmental Implications of Nano Technology (CEINT was first mentioned in my April 15, 2011 posting), Ronald Sandler from Northeastern University and author of Nanotechnology: The Social And Ethical Issues, and Jaydee Hanson, policy director for the International Center for Technology Assessment.

The discussion between Wiesner, Sandler, and Hanson about engineered and natural nanoparticles is why I’ve called the podcast fascinating. Hearing these experts ‘fence’ with each other highlights the complexities and subtleties inherent in discussions about emerging technologies (nano or other) and risk. Millar did not participate in that aspect of the conversation and I imagine that’s due to the fact that she has only been researching this area for six months while the other speakers all have several years worth experience individually and, I suspect, may have debated each other previously.

At the risk of enthusing too much about naturally occurring nanoparticles, I’m mentioning, again (my Feb. 1, 2013 posting), the recently published book by Nanowiki, Nanoparticles Before Nanotechnology, in the context of the stunning visual images used to illustrate the book. I commented previously about them and Victor Puntes of the Inorganic Nanoparticles Group at the Catalan Institute of Nanotechnology (ICN) and one of the creators of this imagery, kindly directed me to a machinima piece (derived from the NanoBosc Second Life community) which is the source for the imagery. Here it is,

NanoBosc from Per4mance MetaLES ..O.. on Vimeo.

Happy Weekend!

Flesh-eating fungus, ivy and other inspirations from nature

Michael Berger has featured Dr. Mingjun Zhang’s team’s fascinating work on flesh-eating fungus in a Dec. 18, 2012 Spotlight article on Nanowerk,

“Most studies on naturally occurring organic nanoparticles have focused on higher organisms,” Mingjun Zhang, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, tells Nanowerk. “Given the earth’s rich biological diversity, it is reasonable to hypothesize that naturally occurring nanoparticles, of various forms and functions, may be produced by a wide range of organisms from microbes to metazoans.”

In his research, Zhang has focused on looking at nature for inspirations for solutions to challenges in engineering and medicine, especially in small-scale, such as bioinspired nanomaterials, bioinspired energy-efficient propulsive systems, and bioinspired nanobio systems for interfacing with cellular systems.

In new work, Zhang and his research associate Dr. Yongzhong Wang have turned their focus to Arthrobotrys oligospora, a representative flesh eater with a predatory life stage in the fungal kingdom.

The researchers have published their work in Advanced Functional Materials ((early online publication behind a paywall),

Naturally Occurring Nanoparticles from Arthrobotrys oligospora as a Potential Immunostimulatory and Antitumor Agent by Yongzhong Wang, Leming Sun, Sijia Yi, Yujian Huang, Scott C. Lenaghan, and Mingjun Zhang in Advanced Functional Materials

Article first published online: 4 DEC 2012 DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201202619

Here’s the abstract,

Arthrobotrys oligospora, a representative flesh eater in the fungal kingdom, is a potential source for natural-based biomaterials due to the presence of specialized 3D adhesive traps that can capture, penetrate, and digest free-living nematodes in diverse environments. The purpose of this study is to discover novel nanoparticles that occur naturally in A. oligospora and to exploit its potential biomedical applications. A new culture method, fungal sitting drop culture method, is established in order to monitor the growth of A. oligospora in situ, and observe the nanoparticle production without interfering or contamination from the solid media. Abundant spherical nanoparticles secreted from the fungus are first revealed by scanning electron microscopy and atomic force microscopy. They have an average size of 360–370 nm, with a zeta potential of –33 mV at pH 6.0. Further analyses reveal that there is ≈28 μg of glycosaminoglycan and ≈550 μg of protein per mg of nanoparticles. Interestingly, the nanoparticles significantly induce TNF-α secretion in RAW264.7mouse macrophages, indicating a potential immunostimulatory effect. The nanoparticles themselves are also found slightly cytotoxic to mouse melanoma B16BL6 and human lung cancer A549 cells, and show a synergistic cytotoxic effect upon conjugation with doxorubicin against both cells. This study proposes a new approach for producing novel organic nanoparticles secreted from microorganisms under controlled conditions. The findings here also highlight the potential roles of the naturally occurring nanoparticles from A. oligospora as an immunostimulatory and antitumor agent for cancer immunochemotherapy.

In more generalized language (from Berger’s Spotlight article),

“It is really exciting to use a natural microbe system to produce nanoparticles for potential cancer therapy,” says Zhang. “Originally, we were trying to understand how the fungus secretes an adhesive trap that can capture, penetrate, and digest free-living nematodes in diverse environments. By doing that we almost accidentally discovered the nanoparticles produced.”

Zhang’s team investigated the fungal nanoparticles’ potential as a stimulant for the immune system, and found through an in vitro study that the nanoparticles activate secretion of an immune-system stimulant within a white blood cell line. They also investigated the nanoparticles’ potential as an antitumor agent by testing in vitro the toxicity to cells using two tumor cell lines, and discovered nanoparticles do kill cancer cells.

Berger’s article in addition to giving more details about Zhang’s current work and his work with ivy and possible applications for ivy-based nanoparticles in sunscreens also provides some discussion of naturally occurring nanoparticles as opposed to engineered (or man-made)  nanoparticles.

The University of Tennessee’s Dec. 4, 2012 press release is also a good source of information on Zhang’s latest work on flesh-eating fungus. For the indefatiguable who are interested in Zhang’s work on ivy and potential nanosunscreens, there’s also my July 22, 2010 posting.

More questions about whether nanoparticles penetrate the skin

The research from the University of Bath about nanoparticles not penetrating the skin has drawn some interest. In addition to the mention here yesterday, in this Oct. 3, 2012 posting, there was this Oct. 2, 2012 posting by Dexter Johnson at the Nanoclast blog on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website. I have excerpted the first and last paragraphs of Dexter’s posting as they neatly present the campaign to regulate the use of  nanoparticles in cosmetics and the means by which science progresses, i.e. this study is not definitive,

For at least the last several years, NGO’s like Friends of the Earth (FoE) have been leveraging preliminary studies that indicated that nanoparticles might pass right through our skin to call for a complete moratorium on the use of any nanomaterials in sunscreens and cosmetics.

This latest UK research certainly won’t put this issue to rest. These experiments will need to be repeated and the results duplicated. That’s how science works. We should not be jumping to any conclusions that this research proves nanoparticles are absolutely safe any more than we should be jumping to the conclusion that they are a risk. Science cuts both ways.

Meanwhile a writer in Australia, Sarah Berry, takes a different approach in her Oct. 4, 2012 article for the Australian newspaper, the  Sydney Morning Herald,

“Breakthrough” claims by cosmetic companies aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, according to a new study.

Nanotechnology — the science of super-small particles — has featured in cosmetic formulations since the late ’80s. Brands claim the technology delivers the “deep-penetrating action” of vitamins and other “active ingredients”.

You may think you know what direction Berry is going to pursue but she swerves,

Dr Gregory Crocetti, a nanotechnology campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia, was scathing of the study. “To conclude that nanoparticles do not penetrate human skin based on a short-term study using excised pig skin is highly irresponsible,” he said. “This is yet another example of short-term, in-vitro research that doesn’t reflect real-life conditions like skin flexing, and the fact that penetration enhancers are used in most cosmetics. There is an urgent need for more long-term studies that actually reflect realistic conditions.”

Professor Brian Gulson, from Macquarie University in NSW, was was similarly critical. The geochemist’s own study, from 2010 and in conjunction with CSIRO [Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization], found that small amounts of zinc particles in sunscreen “can pass through the protective layers of skin exposed to the sun in a real-life environment and be detected in blood and urine”.

Of the latest study he said: “Even though they used a sophisticated method of laser scanning confocal microscopy, their results only reinforced earlier studies [and had] no relevance to ‘real life’, especially to cosmetics, because they used polystyrene nanoparticles, and because they used excised (that is, ‘dead’) pig’s skin.”

I missed the fact that this study was an in vitro test, which is always less convincing than in vivo testing. In my Nov. 29, 2011 posting about some research into nano zinc oxide I mentioned in vitro vs. in vivo testing and Brian Gulson’s research,

I was able to access the study and while I’m not an expert by any means I did note that the study was ‘in vitro’, in this case, the cells were on slides when they were being studied. It’s impossible to draw hard and fast conclusions about what will happen in a body (human or otherwise) since there are other systems at work which are not present on a slide.

… here’s what Brian Gulson had to say about nano zinc oxide concentrations in his work and about a shortcoming in his study (from an Australian Broadcasting Corporation [ABC] Feb. 25, 2010 interviewwith Ashley Hall,

BRIAN GULSON: I guess the critical thing was that we didn’t find large amounts of it getting through the skin. The sunscreens contain 18 to 20 per cent zinc oxide usually and ours was about 20 per zinc. So that’s an awful lot of zinc you’re putting on the skin but we found tiny amounts in the blood of that tracer that we used.

ASHLEY HALL: So is it a significant amount?

BRIAN GULSON: No, no it’s really not.

ASHLEY HALL: But Brian Gulson is warning people who use a lot of sunscreen over an extended period that they could be at risk of having elevated levels of zinc.

BRIAN GULSON: Maybe with young children where you’re applying it seven days a week, it could be an issue but I’m more than happy to continue applying it to my grandchildren.

ASHLEY HALL: This study doesn’t shed any light on the question of whether the nano-particles themselves played a part in the zinc absorption.

BRIAN GULSON: That was the most critical thing. This isotope technique cannot tell whether or not it’s a zinc oxide nano-particle that got through skin or whether it’s just zinc that was dissolved up in contact with the skin and then forms zinc ions or so-called soluble ions. So that’s one major deficiency of our study.

Of course, I have a question about Gulson’s conclusion  that very little of the nano zinc oxide was penetrating the skin based on blood and urine samples taken over the course of the study. Is it possible that after penetrating the skin it was stored in the cells  instead of being eliminated?

It seems it’s not yet time to press the panic button since more research is needed for scientists to refine their understanding of nano zinc oxide and possible health effects from its use.

What I found most interesting in Berry’s article was the advice from the Friends of the Earth,

The contradictory claims about sunscreen can make it hard to know what to do this summer. Friends of the Earth Australia advise people to continue to be sun safe — seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, a hat and sunglasses and using broad spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen.

This is a huge change in tone for that organization, which until now has been relentless in its anti nanosunscreen stance. Here they advise using a sunscreen and they don’t qualify it as they would usually by saying you should avoid nanosunscreens. I guess after the debacle earlier this year (mentioned in this Feb. 9, 2012 posting titled: Unintended consequences: Australians not using sunscreens to avoid nanoparticles?), they have reconsidered the intensity of their campaign.

For anyone interested in some of the history of the Friends of the Earth’s campaign and the NGO (non governemental organization) which went against the prevailing sentiment against nanosunscreen, I suggest reading Dexter’s posting in full and for those interested in the response from Australian scientists about this latest research, do read Berry’s article.

Sunscreen from coral

It’s a fascinating project they’re working on at King’s College London (KCL), converting an amino acid found in coral into a sunscreen for humans. The researchers have just signed an agreement to work with skincare company, Aethic but the  research was first discussed when it was still at the laboratory stage in an Aug. 2011 video produced by KCL,

The Sept. 12, 2012 news item on physorg.com makes the latest announcement about the project,

King’s College London has entered into an agreement with skincare company Aethic to develop the first sunscreen based on MAA’s (mycosporine-like amino acids), produced by coral.

It was last year that a team led by Dr Paul Long at King’s discovered how the naturally-occurring MAA’s were produced. Algae living within coral make a compound that is transported to the coral, which then modifies it into a sunscreen for the benefit of both the coral and the algae. Not only does this protect them both from UV damage, but fish that feed on the coral also benefit from this sunscreen protection.

The KCL Sept. 11, 2012 news release (which originated the new item) notes,

The next phase of development is for the researchers to work with Professor Antony Young and colleagues at the St John’s Institute of Dermatology at King’s, to test the efficacy of the compounds using human skin models.

Aethic’s Sôvée sunscreen was selected as the best ‘host’ product for the compound because of its existing broad-spectrum UVA/UVB and photo-stability characteristics and scientifically proven ecocompatibility credentials.

Dr Paul Long, Reader in Pharmacognosy at King’s Institute of Pharmaceutical Science, said: “While MAA’s have a number of other potential applications, human sunscreen is certainly a good place to begin proving the compound’s features. If our further studies confirm the results we are expecting, we hope that we will be able to develop a sunscreen with the broadest spectrum of protection.  Aethic has the best product and philosophy with which to proceed this exciting project.” [emphasis mine]

I went to the Aethic website and found this on the Be Aethic page,

Being Aethic means you are one with nature through our products. It means your skin lives better, feels better and looks better.

It means you do too.

Your skin is your largest organ. It’s worth looking after from within, with a good diet, and from the outside by protecting it from daily life and the sun’s harmful rays, by keeping it nourished.

Aethic Sôvée has the most photostable sun filters – anywhere. It has organic moisturisers. It contains a skin anti-oxidant. We developed this formula to treat your skin like royalty. And nature will love you for it as well.

People have been telling us that doing less damage to your skin and the ocean are amazing things to do together

Be loved by nature even more – share this with your friends. The more people you tell, the bigger the difference you make. Here’s why.

Deep down, most people probably suspected that the many ingredients they put on their skin from other sunscreens, must do some harm somewhere. Sure enough, in 2008 it was proven by Prof Roberto Danovaro, from Marche Polytechnic University in Italy, that these products can seriously damage coral. He has since discovered they do damage to clams too.

When you use Aethic Sôvée, you know that you’re leaving nothing behind to harm the ocean. In fact, with your contribution to The Going Blue Foundation’s coral nursery fund, you are going positive. Marine Positive – the certification Aethic Sôvée has received.

Unfortunately this copy is a bit of heavy on the sanctimonious side but the possibility of minimizing one’s negative impact on the  world’s oceans while preventing damage to skin can’t be ignored.

In any event, I found the information about the sunscreen making its way up the food chain and benefitting predators amused me when I considered the possibility of a bear or cougar benefitting should they happen to eat me while I’m using this new sunscreen. Given that this solution is not based on metal oxides perhaps it will find more favour with the ‘anti-nanosunscreen’ crowd.

A couple of starter articles on nanotechnology and its good/bad possibilities

It’s been a long time since I’ve featured  any explanations of nanotechnology. Julie Deardorff in her July 10, 2012 article for the Chicago Tribune offers an excellent introduction to nanotechnology and the benefits and risks associated with it,

Improved sunscreens are just one of the many innovative uses of nanotechnology, which involves drastically shrinking and fundamentally changing the structure of chemical compounds. But products made with nanomaterials also raise largely unanswered safety questions — such as whether the particles that make them effective can be absorbed into the bloodstream and are toxic to living cells.

Less than two decades old, the nanotech industry is booming. Nanoparticles — measured in billionths of a meter — are already found in thousands of consumer products, including cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, anti-microbial infant toys, sports equipment, food packaging and electronics. In addition to producing transparent sunscreens, nanomaterials help make light and sturdy tennis rackets, clothes that don’t stain and stink-free socks.

The particles can alter how products look or function because matter behaves differently at the nanoscale, taking on unique and mysterious chemical and physical properties. Materials made of nanoparticles may be more conductive, stronger or more chemically reactive than those containing larger particles of the same compound.

If you would like more information and another perspective (Deardorff’s article is US-focussed), you can read the July 11, 2012 Nanowerk Spotlight article submitted by NanoTrust, Austrian Academy of Sciences (Note: I have removed footnotes),

Nanotechnology is often referred to as being a “key technology” of the 21st century, and the expectations for innovative products and new market potentials are high. The prediction is that novel products with new or improved functionality, or revolutionary developments in the field of medicine, will improve our lives in the future. Importantly, these technical innovations have also raised great hopes in the environmental sector.

Rising prices for raw materials and energy, coupled with the increasing environmental awareness of consumers, are responsible for a flood of products on the market that promise certain advantages for environmental and climate protection. Nanomaterials exhibit special physical and chemical properties that make them interesting for novel, environmentally friendly products.

Emphasis is often placed on the sustainable potential of nanotechnology. Nonetheless, this usually reflects unsubstantiated expectations7. Determining the actual effects of a product on the environment – both positive and negative – requires examining the entire life cycle from production of the raw material to disposal at the end of the life cycle. As a rule, the descriptions of environmental benefits fail to consider the amount of resources and energy consumed in producing the products.

While it’s not as friendly as Deardorff’s, this is a good companion piece as it offers a broader range of  nanotechnology topics and issues and a healthy selection of resources. In addition, Nanotrust has a number of dossiers available for more nanotechnology reading.