Nanotoxicologists self-assemble

If you evaluate the toxicity of an engineered nanomaterial, how far can you trust your results?  If someone else repeats your tests and gets a different answer, did they do it wrong? Did you?  Or was the material used different in some subtle but nevertheless important way?

These are questions that have dogged nanotoxicologists for years, and have undermined many a study.  But help is at hand—a group of scientists have decided to grasp the nettle and start working together to unravel these rather knotty challenges.

Behind the rather grand-sounding title, the International Alliance for NanoEHS Harmonization (IANH) is a serious attempt by toxicologists around the globe to get together and start to dismantle some of the barriers to exploring and evaluating the potential toxicity of nanomaterials.  The current team represents some of the foremost thinkers and researchers in the field of nanotoxicology, including Kenneth Dawson from University College Dublin, Vicki Colvin from Rice University, André Nel from UCLA, Vicki Stone from Napier University, Mark Wiesner from Duke University and Günter Oberdörster from the University of Rochester (a complete list of members can be found here).  The Alliance was announced today at the Second International Conference on Nanotoxicology, in Zurich.

The idea behind IANH is first and foremost to establish testing protocols that will enable reproducible toxicological testing of nanomaterials at the cell and animal levels.  Central to this will be a set of round robin experiments, where researchers share materials and compare the results of independently conducted tests, then work out why some agree and some don’t.  The Alliance then intend to build on this to address correlations between in vitro and in vivo studies—funding-willing.

My gut feeling is that the broader nano-risk research agenda will still need to be set by authoritative national and international bodies if significant progress is to be made in developing safe and sustainable nanotechnologies—bodies such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, national scientific academies, and governments.  But this new group brings three important things to the table:

  • Communication and coordination between researchers that will enable responsive, targeted and synergistic research;
  • a research community that can work together on problems that seem to have slipped off other people’s agendas—like developing and refining common approaches to toxicity testing that are both meaningful and reproducible; and
  • an international community of scientists who can deliver the highest quality research in response to calls for targeted information on the potential impacts of emerging engineered nanomaterials.

Of course, all this depends on research funds being available.  But if national and international funding organizations get their act together and start to fund strategic nanotech risk research at the levels needed, the chances are that this self-assembled group of leading nanotoxicologists will help ensure research investments deliver the goods.

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More information on International Alliance for NanoEHS Harmonization  is available at www.nanoehsalliance.org

Contacts for further information include:

Europe: Iseult Lynch, iseult@fiachra.ucd.ie

Americas: Vicki Colvin, colvin@rice.edu; André Nel, anel@mednet.ucla.edu; Günter Oberdörster, Gunter_Oberdorster@URMC.Rochester.edu; Mark Wiesner, wiesner@duke.edu

Japan and Asia: Masahiro Takemura, TAKEMURA.Masahiro@nims.go.jp

This post first appeared on the SAFENANO blog in September 2008

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