Tag Archives: nanotoxicity

A couple of lawyers talk wrote about managing nanotechnology risks

Because they are lawyers, I was intrigued by a Nov. 4, 2015 article on managing nanotechnology risks by Michael Lisak and James Mizgala of Sidley Austin LLP for Industry Week. I was also intrigued by the language (Note: A link has been removed),

The inclusion of nanotechnologies within manufacturing processes and products has increased exponentially over the past decade. Fortune recently noted that nanotechnology touches almost all Fortune 500 companies and that the industry’s $20 billion worldwide size is expected to double over the next decade. [emphasis mine]

Yet, potential safety issues have been raised and regulatory uncertainties persist. As such, proactive manufacturers seeking to protect their employees, consumers, the environment and their businesses – while continuing to develop, manufacture and market their products – may face difficult choices in how to best navigate this challenging and fluid landscape, while avoiding potential “nanotort,”  [emphasis mine] whistleblower, consumer fraud and regulatory enforcement lawsuits. Doing so requires forward-thinking advice based upon detailed analyses of each manufacturer’s products and conduct in the context of rapidly evolving scientific, regulatory and legal developments.

I wonder how many terms lawyers are going to coin in addition to “nanotort”?

The lawyers focus largely on two types of nanoparticles, carbon nanotubes, with a special emphasis on multi-walled carbon nantubes (MWCNT) and nano titanium dioxide,

Despite this scientific uncertainty, international organizations, such as the International Agency for Research on Cancer [a World Health Organization agency], have already concluded that nano titanium dioxide in its powder form and multi-walled carbon nanotube-7 (“MWCNT-7”) [emphasis mine] are “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” As such, California’s Department of Public Health lists titanium dioxide and MWCNT-7 as “ingredients known or suspected to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive toxicity as determined by the authoritative scientific bodies.”  Considering that processed (i.e., non-powdered) titanium dioxide is found in products like toothpaste, shampoo, chewing gum and candies, it is not surprising that some have focused upon such statements.

There’s a lot of poison in the world, for example, apples contain seeds which have arsenic in them and, for another, peanuts can be carcinogenic and they can also kill you, as they are poison to people who are allergic to them.

On the occasion of Dunkin’ Donuts removing nano titanium dioxide as an ingredient in the powdered sugar used to coat donuts, I wrote a March 13, 2015 posting, where I quote extensively from Dr. Andrew Maynard’s (then director of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center now director of the Risk Innovation Lab at Arizona State University) 2020 science blog posting about nano titanium dioxide and Dunkin’ Donuts,

He describes some of the research on nano titanium dioxide (Note: Links have been removed),

… In 2004 the European Food Safety Agency carried out a comprehensive safety review of the material. After considering the available evidence on the same materials that are currently being used in products like Dunkin’ Donuts, the review panel concluded that there no evidence for safety concerns.

Most research on titanium dioxide nanoparticles has been carried out on ones that are inhaled, not ones we eat. Yet nanoparticles in the gut are a very different proposition to those that are breathed in.

Studies into the impacts of ingested nanoparticles are still in their infancy, and more research is definitely needed. Early indications are that the gastrointestinal tract is pretty good at handling small quantities of these fine particles. This stands to reason given the naturally occurring nanoparticles we inadvertently eat every day, from charred foods and soil residue on veggies and salad, to more esoteric products such as clay-baked potatoes. There’s even evidence that nanoparticles occur naturally inside the gastrointestinal tract.

You can find Andrew’s entire discussion in his March 12, 2015 post on the 2020 Science blog. Andrew had written earlier in a July 12, 2014 posting about something he terms ‘nano donut math’ as reported by As You Sow, the activist group that made a Dunkin’ Donuts shareholder proposal which resulted in the company’s decision to stop using nano titanium dioxide in the powdered sugar found on their donuts. In any event, Andrew made this point,

In other words, if a Dunkin’ Donut Powdered Cake Donut contained 8.9 mg of TiO2 particles smaller than 10 nm, it would have to have been doused with over 1 million tons of sugar coating! (Note update at the end of this piece)

Clearly something’s wrong here – either Dunkin’ Donuts are not using food grade TiO2 but a nanopowder with particle so small they would be no use whatsoever in the sugar coating (as well as being incredibly expensive, and not FDA approved).  Or there’s something rather wrong with the analysis!

If it’s the latter – and it’s hard to imagine any other plausible reason for the data – it looks like As You Sow ended up using rather dubious figures to back up their stakeholder resolution.  I’d certainly be interested in more information on the procedures Analytical Sciences used and the checks and balances they had in place, especially as there are a number of things that can mess up a particle analysis like this.

Update July 14: My bad, I made a slight error in the size distribution calculation first time round.  This has been corrected in the article above.  Originally, I cited the estimated Mass Median Diameter (MMD) of the TiO2 particles as 167 nm, and the Geometric Standard Deviation (GSD) as 1.6.  Correcting an error in the Excel spreadsheet used to calculate the distribution (these things happen!) led to a revised estimate of MMD = 168 nm and a GSD of 1.44.  These may look like subtle differences, but when calculating the estimated particle mass below 10 nm, they make a massive difference.  With the revised figures, you’d expect less than one trillionth of  a percent of the mass of the TiO2 powder to be below 10 nm!! (the original estimate was a tenth of a millionth of a percent).  In other words – pretty much nothing!  The full analysis can be found here.

Update November 16 2014.  Based on this post, As You Sow checked the data from Analytical Sciences LLC and revised the report accordingly.  This is noted above.

It would seem that if there are concerns over nano titanium dioxide in food, the biggest would not be the amounts ingested by consumers but inhalation by workers should they breathe in large quantities when they are handling the material.

As for the MWCNTs, they have long raised alarms but most especially the long MWCNTs and for people handling them during the course of their work day. Any MWCNTs found in sports equipment and other consumer products are bound in the material and don’t pose any danger of being inhaled into the lungs, unless they should be released from their bound state (e.g. fire might release them).

After some searching for MWCNT-7, I found something which seems also to be known as Mitsui MWCNT-7 or Mitsui 7-MWCNT (here’s one of my sources). As best I understand it, Mitsui is a company that produces an MWCNT which they have coined an MWCNT-7 and which has been used in nanotoxicity testing. As best I can tell, MWCNT is MWCNT-7.

The lawyers (Lisak and Mizgala) note things have changed for manufacturers since the early days and they make some suggestions,

One thing is certain – gone are the days when “sophisticated” manufacturers incorporating nanotechnologies within their products can reasonably expect to shield themselves by pointing to scientific and regulatory uncertainties, especially given the amount of money they are spending on research and development, as well as sales and marketing efforts.

Accordingly, manufacturers should consider undertaking meaningful risk management analyses specific to their applicable products. …

First, manufacturers should fully understand the life-cycle of nanomaterials within their organization. For some, nanomaterials may be an explicit focus of innovation and production, making it easier to pinpoint where nanotechnology fits into their processes and products. For others, nanomaterials may exist either higher-up or in the back-end of their products’ supply chain. …

Second, manufacturers should understand and stay current with the scientific state-of-the-art as well as regulatory requirements and developments potentially applicable to their employees, consumers and the environment. An important consideration related to efforts to understand the state-of-the-art is whether or not manufacturers should themselves expend resources to advance “the science” in seeking to help find answers to some of the aforementioned uncertainties. …

The lawyers go on to suggest that manufacturers should consider proactively researching nanotoxicity so as to better defend themselves against any future legal suits.

Encouraging companies to proactive with toxicity issues is in line with what seems to be an international (Europe & US) regulatory movement putting more onus on producers and manufacturers to take responsibility for safety testing. (This was communicated to me in a conversation I had with an official at the European Union Joint Research Centre where he mentioned REACH regulations and the new emphasis in response to my mention of similar FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) regulations. (We were at the 2014 9th World Congress on Alternatives to Animal Testing in Prague, Czech republic.)

For anyone interested in the International Agency for Research on Cancer you can find it here.

Smaller (20nm vs 110nm) silver nanoparticles are more likely to absorbed by fish

An Oct. 8, 2015 news item on Nanowerk offers some context for why researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) are studying silver nanoparticles and their entry into the water system,

More than 2,000 consumer products today contain nanoparticles — particles so small that they are measured in billionths of a meter.

Manufacturers use nanoparticles to help sunscreen work better against the sun’s rays and to make athletic apparel better at wicking moisture away from the body, among many other purposes.

Of those products, 462 — ranging from toothpaste to yoga mats — contain nanoparticles made from silver, which are used for their ability to kill bacteria. But that benefit might be coming at a cost to the environment. In many cases, simply using the products as intended causes silver nanoparticles to wind up in rivers and other bodies of water, where they can be ingested by fish and interact with other marine life.

For scientists, a key question has been to what extent organisms retain those particles and what effects they might have.

I’d like to know where they got those numbers “… 2,000 consumer products …” and “… 462 — ranging from toothpaste to yoga mats — contain nanoparticles made from silver… .”

Getting back to the research, an Oct. 7, 2015 UCLA news release, which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

A new study by the University of California Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology has found that smaller silver nanoparticles were more likely to enter fish’s bodies, and that they persisted longer than larger silver nanoparticles or fluid silver nitrate. The study, published online in the journal ACS Nano, was led by UCLA postdoctoral scholars Olivia Osborne and Sijie Lin, and Andre Nel, director of UCLA’s Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology and associate director of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA.

Nel said that although it is not yet known whether silver nanoparticles are harmful, the research team wanted to first identify whether they were even being absorbed by fish. CEIN, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, is focused on studying the effects of nanotechnology on the environment.

In the study, researchers placed zebrafish in water that contained fluid silver nitrate and two sizes of silver nanoparticles — some measuring 20 nanometers in diameter and others 110 nanometers. Although the difference in size between these two particles is so minute that it can only be seen using high-powered transmission electron microscopes, the researchers found that the two sizes of particles affected the fish very differently.

The researchers used zebrafish in the study because they have some genetic similarities to humans, their embryos and larvae are transparent (which makes them easier to observe). In addition, they tend to absorb chemicals and other substances from water.

Osborne said the team focused its research on the fish’s gills and intestines because they are the organs most susceptible to silver exposure.

“The gills showed a significantly higher silver content for the 20-nanometer than the 110-nanometer particles, while the values were more similar in the intestines,” she said, adding that both sizes of the silver particles were retained in the intestines even after the fish spent seven days in clean water. “The most interesting revelation was that the difference in size of only 90 nanometers made such a striking difference in the particles’ demeanor in the gills and intestines.”

The experiment was one of the most comprehensive in vivo studies to date on silver nanoparticles, as well as the first to compare silver nanoparticle toxicity by extent of organ penetration and duration with different-sized particles, and the first to demonstrate a mechanism for the differences.

Osborne said the results seem to indicate that smaller particles penetrated deeper into the fishes’ organs and stayed there longer because they dissolve faster than the larger particles and are more readily absorbed by the fish.

Lin said the results indicate that companies using silver nanoparticles have to strike a balance that recognizes their benefits and their potential as a pollutant. Using slightly larger nanoparticles might help make them somewhat safer, for example, but it also might make the products in which they’re used less effective.

He added that data from the study could be translated to understand how other nanoparticles could be used in more environmentally sustainable ways.

Nel said the team’s next step is to determine whether silver particles are potentially harmful. “Our research will continue in earnest to determine what the long-term effects of this exposure can be,” he said.

Here’s an image illustrating the findings,

Courtesy ACS Nano

Courtesy ACS Nano

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Organ-Specific and Size-Dependent Ag Nanoparticle Toxicity in Gills and Intestines of Adult Zebrafish by Olivia J. Osborne, Sijie Lin, Chong Hyun Chang, Zhaoxia Ji, Xuechen Yu, Xiang Wang, Shuo Lin, Tian Xia, and André E. Nel. ACS Nano, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.5b04583 Publication Date (Web): September 1, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and a grant for in vitro nanotoxicity testing

This grant seems to have gotten its start at a workshop held at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C., Feb. 24-25, 2015 as per this webpage on the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) International Science Consortium Limited website,

The invitation-only workshop included experts from different sectors (government, industry, academia and NGO) and disciplines (in vitro and in vivo inhalation studies of NMs, fibrosis, dosimetry, fluidic models, aerosol engineering, and regulatory assessment). It focused on the technical details for the development and preliminary assessment of the relevance and reliability of an in vitro test to predict the development of pulmonary fibrosis in cells co-cultured at the air-liquid interface following exposure to aerosolized multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs). During the workshop, experts made recommendations on cell types, exposure systems, endpoints and dosimetry considerations required to develop the in vitro model for hazard identification of MWCNTs.

The method is intended to be included in a non-animal test battery to reduce and eventually replace the use of animals in studies to assess the inhalation toxicity of engineered NMs. The long-term vision is to develop a battery of in silico and in vitro assays that can be used in an integrated testing strategy, providing comprehensive information on biological endpoints relevant to inhalation exposure to NMs which could be used in the hazard ranking of substances in the risk assessment process.

A September 1, 2015 news item on Azonano provides an update,

The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. announced today the winners of a $200,000 award for the design of an in vitro test to predict the development of lung fibrosis in humans following exposure to nanomaterials, such as multi-walled carbon nanotubes.

Professor Dr. Barbara Rothen-Rutishauser of the Adolphe Merkle Institute at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland and Professor Dr. Vicki Stone of the School of Life Sciences at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, U.K. will jointly develop the test method. Professor Rothen-Rutishauser co-chairs the BioNanomaterials research group at the Adolphe Merkle Institute, where her research is focused on the study of nanomaterial-cell interactions in the lung using three-dimensional cell models. Professor Vicki Stone is the Director of the Nano Safety Research Group at Heriot-Watt University and the Director of Toxicology for SAFENANO.

The Science Consortium is also funding MatTek Corporation for the development of a three-dimensional reconstructed primary human lung tissue model to be used in Professors Rothen-Rutishauser and Stone’s work. MatTek Corporation has extensive expertise in manufacturing human cell-based, organotypic in vitro models for use in regulatory and basic research applications. The work at MatTek will be led by Dr. Patrick Hayden, Vice President of Scientific Affairs, and Dr. Anna Maione, head of MatTek’s airway models research group.

I was curious about MatTek Corporation and found this on company’s About Us webpage,

MatTek Corporation was founded in 1985 by two chemical engineering professors from MIT. In 1991 the company leveraged its core polymer surface modification technology into the emerging tissue engineering market.

MatTek Corporation is at the forefront of tissue engineering and is a world leader in the production of innovative 3D reconstructed human tissue models. Our skin, ocular, and respiratory tissue models are used in regulatory toxicology (OECD, EU guidelines) and address toxicology and efficacy concerns throughout the cosmetics, chemical, pharmaceutical and household product industries.

EpiDerm™, MatTek’s first 3D human cell based in vitro model, was introduced in 1993 and became an immediate technical and commercial success.

I wish them good luck in their research on developing better ways to test toxicity.

Research into nanosilver’s antibiotic properties and nanogold’s detection skills

There is a puzzling and exciting announcement from the Canadian Light Source in a May 27, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

Precious metals like silver and gold have biomedical properties that have been used for centuries, but how do these materials effectively combat the likes of cancer and bacteria without contaminating the patient and the environment?

These are the questions that researchers from Dalhousie University and the Canadian Light Source are trying to find out.

Perhaps I’m misreading the announcement but the statement that nanosilver and nanogold don’t contaminate the patient or the environment is a bit exuberant. There are published studies examining questions about whether or not nanosilver may affect the environment and health and the answer is that no one is certain yet. You can read more about two studies highlighted in my February 28, 2013 posting titled:  Silver nanoparticles, water, the environment, and toxicity. As for nanosilver and nanogold not contaminating patients, that too is a problematic statement. For example, I have this paper which cites several studies on nanogold and possible toxicity. The paper itself is a plea to standardize testing and protocols so researchers can do a better job of establishing toxicity issues with nanogold.


Reservations aside, it’s good to learn of some Canadian research in this area. From a May 26, 2015 Canadian Light Source news release, which originated the news item, provides more details about the research and its current focus on nanosilver,

“Gold and silver are both exciting materials,” said Peng Zhang, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Dalhousie. “We can use gold to either detect or kill cancer cells. Silver is also excited and a very promising material as an antibacterial agents.”

Zhang said that if you compare silver to current antibiotics, silver does not show drug-resistant behaviour. “But with silver, so far, we are not finding that,” he added.

Finding out why silver is such a great antibacterial agent is the focus of Zhang’s research, recently published in the journal Langmuir.

“We want to understand the relationship between the atomic structure and bioactivity of nanosilver as to why it is so efficient at inhibiting bacterial activity. It’s a big puzzle.”

Zhang said it is very hard to understand what is happening at the atomic level. Using small nanosilver particles is the most effective way, because when you make silver small, you can expect higher activity because of the increased surface area.

This poses another problem however, as the nanosilver needs to be stabilized with a coating or the silver particles will bond together forming large pieces of silver that do not efficiently interact with the bacteria.

Zhang’s group used two different coatings to compare the effectiveness of the silver as an antibacterial agent. The first was a small amino acid coating and the other was a larger polymer coating. And after testing the interactions between the nanosilver and the bacteria, and looking at the atomic structure of nanosilver using the CLS and the Advanced Photon Source, the researchers were surprised to find that the thicker, larger polymer coating actually created a better delivery method for sliver to inhibit the bacteria.

“We proposed that the small amino acid coating would bind so tightly to the silver surface that it would be difficult for  the silver atoms to interact with the bacteria, whereas the polymers are actually very good at staying in place and still releasing sufficient amount of silver with the bacteria.”

Zhang said the next steps will be to find out if the nanosilver is actually attacking good cells in living systems before they can make any further progress on determining whether nanosilver is an effective and efficient antibactieral agent that could be used to cure human and animal diseases.

Here’s an illustration provided by the researchers,

The atomic structure of nanosilver, revealed by synchrotron X-ray spectroscopy, is proving to be a determinant of silver’s antibacterial activity. Padmos, J. Daniel, et al. "Impact of Protecting Ligands on Surface Structure and Antibacterial Activity of Silver Nanoparticles." Langmuir 31.12 (2015): 3745-3752.

The atomic structure of nanosilver, revealed by synchrotron X-ray spectroscopy, is proving to be a determinant of silver’s antibacterial activity.
Padmos, J. Daniel, et al. “Impact of Protecting Ligands on Surface Structure and Antibacterial Activity of Silver Nanoparticles.” Langmuir 31.12 (2015): 3745-3752.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Impact of Protecting Ligands on Surface Structure and Antibacterial Activity of Silver Nanoparticles by J. Daniel Padmos, Robert T. M. Boudreau, Donald F. Weaver, and Peng Zhang. Langmuir, 2015, 31 (12), pp 3745–3752
DOI: 10.1021/acs.langmuir.5b00049 Publication Date (Web): March 15, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Copper nanoparticles, toxicity research, colons, zebrafish, and septic tanks

Alicia Taylor, a graduate student at UC Riverside, surrounded by buckets of effluent from the septic tank system she used for her research. Courtesy: University of California at Riverside

Alicia Taylor, a graduate student at UC Riverside, surrounded by buckets of effluent from the septic tank system she used for her research. Courtesy: University of California at Riverside

Those buckets of efflluent are strangely compelling. I think it’s the abundance of orange. More seriously, a March 2, 2015 news item on Nanowerk poses a question about copper nanoparticles,

What do a human colon, septic tank, copper nanoparticles and zebrafish have in common?

They were the key components used by researchers at the University of California, Riverside and UCLA [University of California at Los Angeles] to study the impact copper nanoparticles, which are found in everything from paint to cosmetics, have on organisms inadvertently exposed to them.

The researchers found that the copper nanoparticles, when studied outside the septic tank, impacted zebrafish embryo hatching rates at concentrations as low as 0.5 parts per million. However, when the copper nanoparticles were released into the replica septic tank, which included liquids that simulated human digested food and household wastewater, they were not bioavailable and didn’t impact hatching rates.

A March 2, 2015 University of California at Riverside (UCR) news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail about the research,

“The results are encouraging because they show with a properly functioning septic tank we can eliminate the toxicity of these nanoparticles,” said Alicia Taylor, a graduate student working in the lab of Sharon Walker, a professor of chemical and environmental engineering at the University of California, Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering.

The research comes at a time when products with nanoparticles are increasingly entering the marketplace. While the safety of workers and consumers exposed to nanoparticles has been studied, much less is known about the environmental implications of nanoparticles. The Environmental Protection Agency is currently accessing the possible effects of nanomaterials, including those made of copper, have on human health and ecosystem health.

The UC Riverside and UCLA [University of California at Los Angeles] researchers dosed the septic tank with micro copper and nano copper, which are elemental forms of copper but encompass different sizes and uses in products, and CuPRO, a nano copper-based material used as an antifungal agent to spray agricultural crops and lawns.

While these copper-based materials have beneficial purposes, inadvertent exposure to organisms such as fish or fish embryos has not received sufficient attention because it is difficult to model complicated exposure environments.

The UC Riverside researchers solved that problem by creating a unique experimental system that consists of the replica human colon and a replica two-compartment septic tank, which was originally an acyclic septic tank. The model colon is made of a custom-built 20-inch-long glass tube with a 2-inch diameter with a rubber stopper at both ends and a tube-shaped membrane typically used for dialysis treatments within the glass tube.

To simulate human feeding, 100 milliliters of a 20-ingredient mixture that replicated digested food was pumped into the dialysis tube at 9 a.m., 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. for five-day-long experiments over nine months.

The septic tank was filled with waste from the colon along with synthetic greywater, which is meant to simulate wastewater from sources such as sinks and bathtubs, and the copper nanoparticles. The researchers built a septic tank because 20 to 30 percent of American households rely on them for sewage treatment. Moreover, research has shown up to 40 percent of septic tanks don’t function properly. This is a concern if the copper materials are disrupting the function of the septic system, which would lead to untreated waste entering the soil and groundwater.

Once the primary chamber of the septic system was full, liquid began to enter the second chamber. Once a week, the effluent was drained from the secondary chamber and it was placed into sealed five-gallon containers. The effluent was then used in combination with zebrafish embryos in a high content screening process using multiwall plates to access hatching rates.

The remaining effluent has been saved and sits in 30 five-gallon buckets in a closet at UC Riverside because some collaborators have requested samples of the liquid for their experiments.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Understanding the Transformation, Speciation, and Hazard Potential of Copper Particles in a Model Septic Tank System Using Zebrafish to Monitor the Effluent* by Sijie Lin, Alicia A. Taylor, Zhaoxia Ji, Chong Hyun Chang, Nichola M. Kinsinger, William Ueng, Sharon L. Walker, and André E. Nel. ACS Nano, 2015, 9 (2), pp 2038–2048 DOI: 10.1021/nn507216f
Publication Date (Web): January 27, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

* Link added March 10, 2015.

Cute, adorable roundworms help measure nanoparticle toxicity

Caption: Low-cost experiments to test the toxicity of nanomaterials focused on populations of roundworms. Rice University scientists were able to test 20 nanomaterials in a short time, and see their method as a way to determine which nanomaterials should undergo more extensive testing. Credit: Zhong Lab/Rice University

Caption: Low-cost experiments to test the toxicity of nanomaterials focused on populations of roundworms. Rice University scientists were able to test 20 nanomaterials in a short time, and see their method as a way to determine which nanomaterials should undergo more extensive testing.
Credit: Zhong Lab/Rice University

Until now, ‘cute’ and ‘adorable’ are not words I would have associated with worms of any kind or with Rice University, for that matter. It’s amazing what a single image can do, eh?

A Feb. 3, 2015 news item on Azonano describes how roundworms have been used in research investigating the toxicity of various kinds of nanoparticles,

The lowly roundworm is the star of an ambitious Rice University project to measure the toxicity of nanoparticles.

The low-cost, high-throughput study by Rice scientists Weiwei Zhong and Qilin Li measures the effects of many types of nanoparticles not only on individual organisms but also on entire populations.

A Feb. 2, 2015 Rice University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more details about the research,

The Rice researchers tested 20 types of nanoparticles and determined that five, including the carbon-60 molecules (“buckyballs”) discovered at Rice in 1985, showed little to no toxicity.

Others were moderately or highly toxic to Caenorhabditis elegans, several generations of which the researchers observed to see the particles’ effects on their health.

The results were published by the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Sciences and Technology. They are also available on the researchers’ open-source website.

“Nanoparticles are basically new materials, and we don’t know much about what they will do to human health and the health of the ecosystem,” said Li, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and of materials science and nanoengineering. “There have been a lot of publications showing certain nanomaterials are more toxic than others. So before we make more products that incorporate these nanomaterials, it’s important that we understand we’re not putting anything toxic into the environment or into consumer products.

“The question is, How much cost can we bear?” she said. “It’s a long and expensive process to do a thorough toxicological study of any chemical, not just nanomaterials.” She said that due to the large variety of nanomaterials being produced at high speed and at such a large scale, there is “an urgent need for high-throughput screening techniques to prioritize which to study more extensively.”

Rice’s pilot study proves it is possible to gather a lot of toxicity data at low cost, said Zhong, an assistant professor of biosciences, who has performed extensive studies on C. elegans, particularly on their gene networks. Materials alone for each assay, including the worms and the bacteria they consumed and the culture media, cost about 50 cents, she said.

The researchers used four assays to see how worms react to nanoparticles: fitness, movement, growth and lifespan. The most sensitive assay of toxicity was fitness. In this test, the researchers mixed the nanoparticles in solutions with the bacteria that worms consume. Measuring how much bacteria they ate over time served as a measure of the worms’ “fitness.”

“If the worms’ health is affected by the nanoparticles, they reproduce less and eat less,” Zhong said. “In the fitness assay, we monitor the worms for a week. That is long enough for us to monitor toxicity effects accumulated through three generations of worms.” C. elegans has a life cycle of about three days, and since each can produce many offspring, a population that started at 50 would number more than 10,000 after a week. Such a large number of tested animals also enabled the fitness assay to be highly sensitive.

The researchers’ “QuantWorm” system allowed fast monitoring of worm fitness, movement, growth and lifespan. In fact, monitoring the worms was probably the least time-intensive part of the project. Each nanomaterial required specific preparation to make sure it was soluble and could be delivered to the worms along with the bacteria. The chemical properties of each nanomaterial also needed to be characterized in detail.

The researchers studied a representative sampling of three classes of nanoparticles: metal, metal oxides and carbon-based. “We did not do polymeric nanoparticles because the type of polymers you can possibly have is endless,” Li explained.

They examined the toxicity of each nanoparticle at four concentrations. Their results showed C-60 fullerenes, fullerol (a fullerene derivative), titanium dioxide, titanium dioxide-decorated nanotubes and cerium dioxide were the least damaging to worm populations.

Their “fitness” assay confirmed dose-dependent toxicity for carbon black, single- and multiwalled carbon nanotubes, graphene, graphene oxide, gold nanoparticles and fumed silicon dioxide.

They also determined the degree to which surface chemistry affected the toxicity of some particles. While amine-functionalized multiwalled nanotubes proved highly toxic, hydroxylated nanotubes had the least toxicity, with significant differences in fitness, body length and lifespan.

A complete and interactive toxicity chart for all of the tested materials is available online.

Zhong said the method could prove its worth as a rapid way for drug or other companies to narrow the range of nanoparticles they wish to put through more expensive, dedicated toxicology testing.

“Next, we hope to add environmental variables to the assays, for example, to mimic ultraviolet exposure or river water conditions in the solution to see how they affect toxicity,” she said. “We also want to study the biological mechanism by which some particles are toxic to worms.”

Here’s a citation for the paper and links to the paper and to the researchers’ website,

A multi-endpoint, high-throughput study of nanomaterial toxicity in Caenorhabditis elegans by Sang-Kyu Jung, Xiaolei Qu, Boanerges Aleman-Meza, Tianxiao Wang, Celeste Riepe, Zheng Liu, Qilin Li, and Weiwei Zhong. Environ. Sci. Technol., Just Accepted Manuscript DOI: 10.1021/es5056462 Publication Date (Web): January 22, 2015
Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

Nanomaterial effects on C. elegans

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This heat map indicates whether a measurement for the nanomaterial-exposed worms is higher (yellow), or lower (blue) than the control worms. Black indicates no effects from nanomaterial exposure.

Clicking on colored blocks to see detailed experimental data.

The published paper is open access but you need an American Chemical Society site registration to access it. The researchers’ site is open access.

Two-organ tests (body-on-a-chip) show liver damage possible from nanoparticles

This is the first time I’ve seen testing of two organs for possible adverse effects from nanoparticles. In this case, the researchers were especially interested in the liver. From an Aug. 12, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Nanoparticles in food, sunscreen and other everyday products have many benefits. But Cornell [University] biomedical scientists are finding that at certain doses, the particles might cause human organ damage.

A recently published study in Lab on a Chip by the Royal Society of Chemistry and led by senior research associate Mandy Esch shows that nanoparticles injure liver cells when they are in microfluidic devices designed to mimic organs of the human body. The injury was worse when tested in two-organ systems, as opposed to single organs – potentially raising concerns for humans and animals.

Anne Ju’s Aug. 11, 2014 article for Cornell University’s Chronicle describes the motivation for this work and the research itself in more detail,

“We are looking at the effects of what are considered to be harmless nanoparticles in humans,” Esch said. “These particles are not necessarily lethal, but … are there other consequences? We’re looking at the non-lethal consequences.”

She used 50-nanometer carboxylated polystyrene nanoparticles, found in some animal food sources and considered model inert particles. Shuler’s lab specializes in “body-on-a-chip” microfluidics, which are engineered chips with carved compartments that contain cell cultures to represent the chemistry of individual organs.

In Esch’s experiment, she made a human intestinal compartment, a liver compartment and a compartment to represent surrounding tissues in the body. She then observed the effects of fluorescently labeled nanoparticles as they traveled through the system.

Esch found that both single nanoparticles as well as small clusters crossed the gastrointestinal barrier and reached liver cells, and the liver cells released an enzyme called aspartate transaminase, known to be released during cell death or damage.

It’s unclear exactly what damage is occurring or why, but the results indicate that the nanoparticles must be undergoing changes as they cross the gastrointestinal barrier, and that these alterations may change their toxic potential, Esch said. Long-term consequences for organs in proximity could be a concern, she said.

“The motivation behind this study was twofold: one, to show that multi-organ, in vitro systems give us more information when testing for the interaction of a substance with the human body, and two … to look at nanoparticles because they have a huge potential for medicine, yet adverse effects have not been studied in detail yet,” Esch said.

Mary Macleod’s July 3, 2014 article for Chemistry World features a diagram of the two-organ system and more technical details about the research,

Schematic of the two-organ system [downloaded from http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2014/07/nanoparticle-liver-gastrointestinal-tract-microfluidic-chip]

Schematic of the two-organ system [downloaded from http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2014/07/nanoparticle-liver-gastrointestinal-tract-microfluidic-chip]

HepG2/C3A cells were used to represent the liver, with the intestinal cell co-culture consisting of enterocytes (Caco-2) and mucin-producing (HT29-MTX) cells. Carboxylated polystyrene nanoparticles were fluorescently labelled so their movement between the chambers could be tracked. Levels of aspartate transaminase, a cytosolic enzyme released into the culture medium upon cell death, were measured to give an indication of liver damage.

The study saw that single nanoparticles and smaller nanoparticle aggregates were able to cross the GI barrier and reach the liver cells. The increased zeta potentials of these nanoparticles suggest that crossing the barrier may raise their toxic potential. However, larger nanoparticles, which interact with cell membranes and aggregate into clusters, were stopped much more effectively by the GI tract barrier.

The gastrointestinal tract is an important barrier preventing ingested substances crossing into systemic circulation. Initial results indicate that soluble mediators released upon low-level injury to liver cells may enhance the initial injury by damaging the cells which form the GI tract. These adverse effects were not seen in conventional single-organ tests.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Body-on-a-chip simulation with gastrointestinal tract and liver tissues suggests that ingested nanoparticles have the potential to cause liver injury by Mandy B. Esch, Gretchen J. Mahler, Tracy Stokol, and Michael L. Shuler. Lab Chip, 2014,14, 3081-3092 DOI: 10.1039/C4LC00371C First published online 27 Jun 2014

This paper is open access until Aug. 12, 2014.

While this research is deeply concerning, it should be noted the researchers are being very careful in their conclusions as per Ju’s article, “It’s unclear exactly what damage is occurring or why, but the results indicate that the nanoparticles must be undergoing changes as they cross the gastrointestinal barrier, and that these alterations may change their toxic potential … Long-term consequences for organs in proximity could be a concern … .”

Reducing animal testing for nanotoxicity—PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) presentation at NanoTox 2014

Writing about nanotechnology can lead you in many different directions such as the news about PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and its poster presentation at the NanoTox 2014 conference being held in Antalya, Turkey from April 23 – 26, 2014. From the April 22, 2014 PETA news release on EurekAlert,

PETA International Science Consortium Ltd.’s nanotechnology expert will present a poster titled “A tiered-testing strategy for nanomaterial hazard assessment” at the 7th International Nanotoxicology Congress [NanoTox 2014] to be held April 23-26, 2014, in Antalya, Turkey.

Dr. Monita Sharma will outline a strategy consistent with the 2007 report from the US National Academy of Sciences, “Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and a Strategy,” which recommends use of non-animal methods involving human cells and cell lines for mechanistic pathway–based toxicity studies.

Based on the current literature, the proposed strategy includes thorough characterization of nanomaterials as manufactured, as intended for use, and as present in the final biological system; assessment using multiple in silico and in vitro model systems, including high-throughput screening (HTS) assays and 3D systems; and data sharing among researchers from government, academia, and industry through web-based tools, such as the Nanomaterial Registry and NanoHUB

Implementation of the proposed strategy will generate meaningful information on nanomaterial properties and their interaction with biological systems. It is cost-effective, reduces animal use, and can be applied for assessing risk and making intelligent regulatory decisions regarding the use and disposal of nanomaterials.

PETA’s International Science Consortium has recently launched a nanotechnology webpage which provides a good overview of the basics and, as one would expect from PETA, a discussion of relevant strategies that eliminate the use of animals in nanotoxicity assessment,

What is nano?

The concept of fabricating materials at an atomic scale was introduced in 1959 by physicist Richard Feynman in his talk entitled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” The term “nano” originates from the Greek word for “dwarf,” which represents the very essence of nanomaterials. In the International System of Units, the prefix “nano” means one-billionth, or 10-9; therefore, one nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, which is smaller than the thickness of a sheet of paper or a strand of hair.  …

Are there different kinds of nano?

The possibility of controling biological processes using custom-synthesized materials at the nanoscale has intrigued researchers from different scientific fields. With the ever increasing sophistication of nanomaterial synthesis, there has been an exponential increase in the number and type of nanomaterials available or that can be custom synthesized. Table 1 lists some of the nanomaterials that are currently available.


Oddly, given the question ‘Are there different kinds of nano?’, there’s no mention of nanobots.  Still it’s understandable that they’d focus on nanomaterials which are, as far as I know, the only ‘nano’ anything tested for toxicity. On that note, PETA’s Nanotechnology page offers this revelatory listing (scroll down about 3/4 of the way),

The following are some of the web-based tools being used by nanotoxicologists and material scientists:

Getting back to the NanoTox conference being held now in Antalya, I noticed a couple of familiar names on the list of keynote speakers (scroll down about 15% of the way), Kostas Kostarelos (last mentioned in a Feb. 28, 2014 posting about scientific publishing and impact factors’ scroll down about 1/2 way) and Mark Wiesner (last mentioned in a Nov. 13, 2013 posting about a major grant for one of his projects).

Ecotoxicology and environmental fate of manufactured nanomaterials—testing guidelines from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has released guidelines for testing manufactured nanomaterials according to a March 11, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

As part of its Programme on the Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials, and in particular work on the testing and assessment of manufactured nanomaterials, OECD initiated a series of expert meetings to improve the applicability of the OECD Test Guidelines to nanomaterials. With this in mind, the Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials agreed to address the ecotoxicology and environmental fate of manufactured nanomaterials.

The OECD Expert Meeting on Ecotoxicology and Environmental Fate took place on 29th-31st January 2013 in Berlin, Federal Press Office. The event was hosted by the German delegation and funded by the German Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) as well as the United States Environment Protection Agency (US EPA).

Three documents were published one of which being a preview,

The OECD expert meeting on ecotoxicology and environmental fate — Towards the development of improved OECD guidelines for the testing of nanomaterials by Dana Kühnel and Carmen Nickel. Science of The Total Environment Volume 472, 15 February 2014, Pages 347–353 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.11.055

This document is open access.

The report itself,

Series on the Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials. ENV/JM/MONO(2014)1

TEST GUIDELINES Expert Meeting Report
Series on the Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials No. 40

Ecotoxicology and Environmental Fate of Manufactured Nanomaterials: Test Guidelines

There’s an addendum which includes the presentations made at the meeting (you can find both the report, proper, and the addendum on this page scroll to report no. 40),



Series on the Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials No. 40
Ecotoxicology and Environmental Fate of Manufactured Nanomaterials:
Test Guidelines.

As it can get a little tricky accessing OECD documents, I’ve tried to give a couple different links and as much identifying information as possible. Good luck!