Nanoparticle Research News

Nanoparticles May Pose Threat To Liver, Scientists Say

Researchers are studying the effects that tiny particles found in household goods may have on the liver.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh announced on April 4 they will assess whether nanoparticles -- already found in pollution from traffic exhaust, but also used in making household goods such as paint, sunblock, food, cosmetics and clothes -- can cause damage to the cells of the liver.

Nanoparticles are atoms and molecules 80,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, with various properties according to their composition, which explains their widespread usage. Airborne nanoparticles present in traffic exhaust are already known to enter the lungs and affect human health.

Dr. Celine Filippi ( explained: "In experiments carried out elsewhere to mimic environmental exposure, nanoparticles delivered into the lungs crossed the lung barrier and entered the blood. Particles in the blood can reach the liver, amongst other organs. We also know that nanoparticles directly injected into the blood for medical purposes are also likely to end up in the liver.

"We don't yet know if the nanoparticles are safely eliminated from the liver by specialized cells or whether these extremely small particles can enter the liver cells and disrupt their normal functioning. Our research will try to establish whether nanoparticles, which are set to be used increasingly in industry and the manufacture of household goods, can damage the cells of the liver," Filippi said.

Ken Donaldson (, professor of respiratory toxicology at the University of Edinburgh said: "We are looking at the new idea that the liver is a target for nanoparticles, and a lot more work needs to be done to assess the levels and impact of nanoparticles reaching the liver."

For information on other research projects into toxicity of nanomaterials, go to

Nanoparticles Could Help Spot Dangerous Substances Used By Bio-terrorists

A new technique for rapid, on-the-spot detection of dangerous biological substances could give a major boost to anti-terrorist operations worldwide, the University of East Anglia announced on March 21.

Harnessing the ability of coated metal particles to change color in the presence of toxins, viruses and bacteria, it aims to provide a quick "yes/no" indication of the safety of substances found at crime scenes, in luggage or in suspects' possession.

Countering biological attacks is a key priority in the war against terror. While most methods of identifying bioterrorist materials are lab-based, the pioneering technique being developed at the University of East Anglia has the potential to be incorporated in an easy-to-use field instrument.

This would enable security services to deal promptly with dangerous substances and avoid taking unnecessary, time-consuming precautions with harmless ones.

The technique is based on the coating of metal nanoparticles with different sugars that recognize particular biological substances. The substance binds to the sugar, which causes a solution containing the nanoparticles to change color (e.g. gold particles turn from red to blue), revealing the presence of the substance. The color of a solution of the nanoparticles changes color when the particles clump together. Light interacting with the nanoparticles is absorbed differently when the particles have aggregated as compared to when they are dispersed. Ensuring this color change occurs even when small amounts of harmful substances are present is a key objective of the research.

The new technique could even be adapted to help developing countries detect water infected with cholera and other diseases as a result of natural disasters. Professors David Russell and Robert Field of the University of East Anglia are leading the three-year initiative.

Russell said: "Our project is focusing on the basic science needed to underpin the new technique. Once this is complete, device design and field testing will be needed, with real-world deployment of a simple, robust detection system perhaps five years away."

David Russell:

Robert Field:

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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