National Institutes of Health (NIH) and its National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) just announced the funding of a new interdisciplinary Nano-safety Center at the T. H. Chan Harvard School of Public Health. The main focus of the new HSPH-NIEHS Center is to bring together scientists from across disciplines- material science, chemistry, exposure assessment, risk assessment, nanotoxicology and nanobiology- to assess the potential environmental Health and safety (EHS) implications of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs).
The $4 million dollar HSPH based Center which is the only Nanosafety Research Center to be funded by NIEHS this funding cycle, will bring together researchers from 4 Universities including two o of the Harvard University Schools (T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS)), MIT, University of Maine and University of Florida. The new HSPH-NIEHS Nanosafety Center builds upon the nano-related infrastructure in these collaborating Universities, developed over the past 10 years, which includes an inter-disciplinary research group of faculty, research staff and students, as well as state-of-the-art platforms for high throughput synthesis of ENMs, including metal and metal oxides, cutting edge 2D/3D ENMs such as CNTs and graphene, nanocellulose, and advanced nanocomposites, coupled with innovative tools to assess the fate and transport of ENMs in biological systems, statistical and exposure assessment tools, and novel in vitro and in vivo platforms for nanotoxicology research.
“Our mission is to integrate material/exposure/chemical sciences and nanotoxicology-nanobiology to facilitate assessment of potential risks from emerging nanomaterials. In doing so, we are bringing together the material synthesis/applications and nanotoxicology communities and other stakeholders including industry, policy makers and the general public to maximize innovation and growth and minimize environmental and public health risks from nanotechnology”, quoted by Dr Philip Demokritou, faculty in the Department of Environmental Health, currently the Director of the existing Interdisciplinary Center for Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology at HSPH (www.hsph.harvard.edu/nano) and the Principal Investigator and the Director of this newly funded HSPH-NIEHS Nanosafety Center. Other co-Investigators include Professors Michael Strano (MIT), Brij Moudgil (University of Florida), David Bell (Harvard, SEAS), and Douglas Bousfield (University of Maine).
The existing interdisciplinary Center for Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology at HSPH was established by Professors Philip Demokritou and Joseph Brain in 2010 to continue the Department of Environmental Health’s long and rich history on assessing health effects of ambient particulate matter. The existing Nano-Center’s extensive research agenda includes a number of ongoing research projects on applications and implications of nanotechnology funded by all major federal funding agencies including NIH, USDA, NSF, NIOSH, CPSC as well as a number of research collaborations with industry including BASF, Panasonic, STERIS etc.
The new NIEHS Center grant is a major milestone for the HSPH Nano-center and will enable the continuation of transformative research in the sustainable nanotechnology research areas. The work in the newly funded NIEHS-HSPH nanosafety Center will be accomplished through a number of highly interconnected cores/aims and research projects. High throughput ENM synthesis platforms will be developed and used to synthesize reference nanomaterials of well characterized and controlled properties to be used for nanotoxicology studies. ENMs of interest will include an extensive array of well-characterized, industry-relevant ENMs that cover both conventional ENMs, such as metals and metal oxides, and emerging advanced 2D/3D ENMs, such as graphene, graphane, CNTs and nanocellulose. A national level nanomaterial reference Library will be established at HSPH. ENMs will be shipped to all NIH investigators in the US performing research on nano-bio interactions and nanotoxicology. The new Center will also play a coordinating role with existing and future NIEHS nanotoxicology related research projects. A method development core will launch a number of research projects to develop standardized methods for nano-bio interaction studies including methods on dosimetry, numerical and experimental tools for fate and transport of ENMs in biological media, corona characterization methods, and chemical and radio-tracing techniques to be used by nanotoxicology community to track biodistribution and translocation of ENMs in cellular and animal models.
New technology and materials bring new questions: Given the increasingly vast array of engineered nanomaterials being utilized in industry, incorporated into consumer products, and employed in medical imaging and therapeutic applications, understanding relationships between physicochemical properties of ENMs and their biological effects is critical. Although progress has been made in recent years in understanding biointeractions of ENMs, there is still great uncertainty about safety risks. Furthermore, there is a major gap in understanding biointeractions of emerging, new generation, “horizon” ENMs such as advanced carbon based ENMs (e.g. graphene, nanocellulose) currently used in a variety of consumer products. This requires a new multidisciplinary approach combining material science/synthesis with nanobiology and nanotoxicology. The new HSPH-NIEHS Nanosafety center ‘s work will be accomplished through a number of highly interconnected cores/aims and research projects.
“We aim to work across disciplines, share new ideas, develop industry-relevant reference ENMs, and work with the nanotoxicology community to develop multidisciplinary projects and standardized methods to advance our understanding of nano-EHS issues. Our NanoCenter will generate these reference families of ENMs, holding some parameters constant while changing others systematically to understand the structure-activity-relationships. We will bring together modern material science, in vivo and in vitro toxicologic approaches to carry out the biologic evaluation of nanomaterials. We also seek to advance methods needed to evaluate the safety of nanotechnology”, Dr. Philip Demokritou the new Center Director concluded.
The rapid expansion of nanotechnology is a powerful scientific and economic force. However, we need to match this progress with careful evaluation of the possible toxicity of nanomaterials and minimize potential environmental and health risks.