The interaction of man-made materials with biological systems - e.g. cells,
tissues organs - is an important issue, especially for products in the fields of
medicine, food, cosmetics and other consumer products.
The new possibilities offered by nanotechnology will, most likely, lead to an
increase in contact with living systems. New products and applications will
interact with the surrounding tissue in two ways: They will bring about the
desired effect(s) of e.g. medical applications such as bone replacements or
artificial heart valves; they might, however, also exert an unwanted - i.e.,
negative - impact, e.g. through unintended ingestion or inhalation of
The consequences of these "side effects" must be studied in detail as we have
to know how to handle nanomaterials in their specific applications. To provide
answers on questions such as the stability of nanomaterials within the human
body, the chances of exposure during the use of "nano-products" or the
biological mechanisms that may be induced by nanoparticles or nanomaterials to
the general public and to the various stakeholders involved is a key requirement
if the research community is to introduce nanotechnology in a responsible
In our laboratory, we try to provide answers to these issues by
focusing on three different topics:
- The basic mechanisms of cellular responses to new materials - CellBio@Interfaces
- The use of new materials for medical applications - MaTisMed
- The possible risks through interactions of nanoparticles with human cells
and tissues - Nanointercell
The first topic comprises the development of cellular systems and monitoring
tools for the characterisation of cell-material interactions. We thus study the
behaviour, status and health of thousands or millions of cells in culture
systems. A more precise understanding of minute differences between individual
cells or cell types could lead to better treatments for diseases and a more
predictable design for cell-based sensors as well as for tissue engineering
The second topic is to define and refine materials and material surfaces in
such a way that cell migration, proliferation and differentiation can be
controlled according to the final function an implant has to fulfil.
For this purpose, we try to model the in vivo situation as closely as
possible using cell lines and primary cells of different species, preferentially
human cells. These models are being used to investigate how chemical
composition, structure, the release of bioactive substances and applied forces
at the cell-material interface influence cellular performance.
Thirdly, we are interested in the impact of nanomaterials on living systems,
as several engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) such as carbon nanotubes (CNT), metal
oxides or metal nanoparticles are already produced on an industrial scale and
used in a huge variety of products.
Their potential impact on health and environment is still controversial. Yet,
it is still unknown to what extent ENMs are able to adversely affect biological
processes. With our activities, most of which are embedded in and coordinated
with a world-wide network of experts, we want to actively contribute to a safe
and sustainable development of nanotechnology.
The open questions in relation to nanoparticles and their possible risks are
many. One of the most important challenges is the dependency of biological
effects on the properties of the nanoparticles in question, especially their
size, surface properties and chemical composition.
Moreover, biological effects may vary tremendously depending on the different
uptake routes (lung, gut, skin), or tissues and organ systems such as the immune
system, neurons, macrophages or the liver may exhibit completely different
reactions in response to nanomaterial X, Y or Z.
The complexity of this field makes it very difficult to focus on all these
questions simultaneously. The only way of tackling these issues is through an
"integrated approach", an international network of research groups and
institutes that complement each other, exchange data and results and,
eventually, assemble the separate pieces of the puzzle into a coherent framework
of knowledge and expertise.
We are, therefore, actively engaged in the following expert groups and
network (not a research project) that will
- Facilitate collaboration between projects
- Communicate results to stakeholders and their needs back to researchers
- Help implement the EU's Action Plan for Nanotechnology
NanoMMUNE: FP7 research project that will
- the synthesis and detailed characterization of representative classes of
- the monitoring of potential hazardous effects by in vitro and in vivo
- transcriptomics and oxidative lipidomics to determine nanotoxic signatures.
- risk assessment of potential adverse effects of ENs on human health.
DaNa: a German initiative together with Switzerland and Austria on the
- Acquisition, evaluation and broad-based illustration of societal relevant
data and findings of nanomaterials
Copyright AZoNano.com, Professor Harald F. Krug
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