Dec 14, 2011Science and Technology
Nanotoxicology research advances, despite a need for more industry innovators

All too often we let technology get ahead of safety measures.  Nanotechnology is a perfect example.  Put simply, nanotechnology includes a broad field of innovations designed to be super-tiny molecules with a big impact on our health and/or environment.  Nanotoxicology is the corresponding field of safety testing used for these tiny innovations.  The lesson to be learned here is just because it’s new, cool, and innovative, does not automatically mean it is safe.


There are exceptions to be noted.  For example, when a new cancer drug or AIDS medication is being evaluated in safety toxicology studies, the severity of adverse side effects is weighed against the health benefit from the treatment.  Chemotherapy is a harmful radiation treatment but without it, the survival rate of cancer patients would be drastically reduced.  In other words, the benefit of survival outweighs the negative effects from radiation.  But when we consider the environmental exposure to nanotoxicology, the effect may be widespread through the atmosphere or water stream without regard to adverse effects on living things.  This is because the molecules are so tiny that they can be present in a drop of water or a bubble of air. 


Two studies recently reported that nanotechnology research from the last 10 years has placed much more weight on application endpoints than safety endpoints.  Why has safety become an afterthought and why is money being invested in a technology that may not be safe in the end?  There may be a shortage of experts, but it’s a classic example of living downstream.    


An innovative approach to nanotoxicology is like living upstream.  It can cost multitudes more to fix a problem after it has happened than to prevent a problem before it happens. Just ask your auto mechanic!  And if you know much about the history of the Federal Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency (FDA and EPA, respectively), then you know how their regulations have come about – through tragedy from a lack of precaution.  The adverse effects of abestiform materials and industrial aerosols are just two examples that can justify the entire field of nanotoxicology.  It may be the next area of innovation that requires FDA and EPA regulation. 


Generally, a nanotechnology discovery will go through many phases of testing before the final configuration is achieved.  The focus may be on maximizing a benefit while minimizing cost.  If nanotoxicology can prove there is a considerable risk associated with exposure to nanoscale materials, it won’t take long for a slew of testing facilities and methodologies to pop up.  The biggest challenge may be a lack of experts, but there is plenty of room for innovators who want to break into an exciting, fast-growing field of opportunity.  


NanoSight is nanochemistry company that is making strides in the field of development and tracking of nanoscale materials.  They have installed more than 400 of their innovative tracking systems worldwide with big-name pharma companies like Pfizer and Merck. NanoSight clearly has a leadership role in the nanotechnology industry but further research with nanotoxicology applications is needed. 

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