Editorial Feature

Are Nanoparticles Dangerous?

Nanoparticles have been employed in the areas of medicine, space exploration, environmental preservation, and energy. There is an exponential increase in the production of nanoparticles, which increases the risk of human exposure. This article sets out to answer the following question: are nanoparticles dangerous?

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Are Nanoparticles Dangerous to Make?

Materials synthesized into nanoparticles have at least a single primary dimension smaller than one hundred nanometers (nm). Nanoparticles are distinctive and desired for commercial applications. This is because they differ from bigger particles of identical material in terms of their electrical, physical, and chemical properties.

Nanoparticles that are dangerous to synthesize are associated with safety risks. This tends to be based on factors like synthesis protocol, manual errors (spills), exposure level to researchers or workers and the environment.

The risks associated with some nanoparticles dangerous in nature are dependent on their bio-physio-chemical properties, including surface area, size, aggregation state and surface charge.

Exposure to nanoparticles that might be dangerous may occur through skin contact, ingestion, or inhalation, depending on how they are utilized and manufactured. Long-term direct contact with nanoparticles dangerous to the skin can cause irritation, redness, or inflammation. This may occur during the manufacturing process, such as in the event of a spill on a person's skin.

Nanoparticles that are dangerous or possibly unsafe also have the capacity to penetrate healthy, intact skin and subsequently spread to different organ systems.

According to Missaoui et al., the size and huge surface area of nanoparticles are key factors in their mode of entry, cellular absorption, and overall health impacts. These characteristics also impact the extent to which nanoparticles are dangerous. 

Other research demonstrates a connection between nanoparticle size, distribution, and the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) upon systemic translocation. The transport of such nanoparticles, which are dangerous to manufacture, may also impact the health of the gastrointestinal tract.

During the production process, nanoparticles that may be dangerous may become airborne, causing a high concentration of those particles to be released into the surrounding environment. When inhaled, these airborne types may be considered nanoparticles dangerous to pulmonary (respiratory) health. 

Are Nanoparticles Dangerous to Inhale?

The research published in the journal ACS Nano may shed some light on the question “Are nanoparticles dangerous to inhale?”. The gold nanoparticles used in this study for intentional acute exposure in healthy volunteers are dangerous to inhale because they may generate oxidative stress and inflammatory lesions in the lungs upon entry.

Such metal types form or are dangerous nanoparticles due their small size and chemical makeup, which increases their cellular uptake.

The study suggested that nanoparticles dangerous to inhale can also circulate throughout the body and build up at multiple sites, causing vascular irritation. Further analysis of surgical samples from stroke-risk patients with carotid artery disease showed a build-up of intentionally inhaled gold nanoparticles.

 Are Nanoparticles Dangerous to Health? - Case Study 1

Nanoparticles have numerous benefits, including small size and good biocompatibility with therapeutic drugs, but still, there are nanoparticles dangerous in character with potential health hazards. Given that more commercial products are becoming available that contain nanoparticles, the above dangerous consequences cannot be disregarded.

Food-grade metal oxide nanoparticles, which are employed as a food coloring and anti-caking materials in the food sector, fall under this category of commercial products.

In 2023, a study published in the journal Antioxidants reported that certain nanoparticles dangerous to health (silicon dioxide and titanium dioxide, which are commonly used in food) might alter the development of the intestinal brush border membrane, the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines, the mineral transporter, and the composition of intestinal bacterial populations.

This was seen in the study when different nanoparticle solutions, including 2.0 x 105 mg Silicon oxide NP/mL, were administered into six groups of Gallus gallus. These changes could affect how well the intestinal tract functions.

Are Nanoparticles Dangerous to Health? - Case Study 2

Several studies on the toxicity of silver nanoparticles have been conducted utilizing cell lines from the rat liver, mouse fibroblast, and human hepatocellular carcinoma. 

Reactive oxygen species, oxidative stress-mediated cell death, and apoptosis were all critically increased in all investigations (concentrations ranging between 2.5 - 200 g/mL). These outcomes have limited the advised external usage of topical products containing silver nanoparticles.

According to Fung et al., consumption of silver and topical treatment can produce argyria, a benign disorder characterized by a greyish-blue coloring of the skin and liver brought on by the deposition of silver nanoparticles, dangerous or high concentration in the organ’s basal laminae.

In a different investigation, Trop et al. found that a burns patient who received treatment with a bandage coated with silver nanoparticles experienced reversible silver toxicity. The findings point to the reversible toxicity of silver nanoparticles.

These metal nanoparticles that are dangerous or potentially hazardous to health have potential adverse effects that should be mitigated.

Are Nanoparticles Dangerous to Health? - Case Study 3

Polymeric nanoparticle-based drug delivery systems are another potential system, which can be used for targeted and controlled therapy, but are still under development.

Gupta et al., found that electrostatic binding may result in unexpected cytotoxicity after in vivo injection of cationic polymeric nanoparticles because it may generate non-specific interactions with opsonizing proteins in the blood or non-specific cells. 

The safety and possibly dangerous effects of several biodegradable polymers, when utilized as nanoparticles, have been studied. Therefore, metal and polymeric variants can be considered as nanoparticles dangerous to health, if not fully examined for their toxicity before use.

Conclusion: Are Nanoparticles Dangerous?

Nanoparticles are highly significant in sectors like healthcare. The biggest challenge in the discipline of nanoscience today, though, is the identification and estimation of whether nanoparticles are dangerous and to what extent.

This is because nanoparticles are constantly being produced and implemented for a variety of applications while having different physiochemical properties.

Research literature has demonstrated that the harm posed by nanoparticles could significantly rise if it is not continuously explored. Potentially dangerous nanoparticles may cause unexpected responses that hurt bodily cells and organs.

Therefore, to envisage the serious health concerns associated with nanoparticles dangerous in nature after synthesis, their entire life cycle should be examined, from manufacturing to storage, distribution to intended commercial uses, potential abuse, and at last, disposal.

What is Nanosafety and Why is it Important?

References and Further Reading

Gupta R. & Xie H. (2018) Nanoparticles in Daily Life: Applications, Toxicity and Regulations. Journal of Environmental Pathology, Toxicology and Oncology. 37(3), p.209.

Cheng J., et al. (2023) Food-Grade Metal Oxide Nanoparticles Exposure Alters Intestinal Microbial Populations, Brush Border Membrane Functionality and Morphology, In Vivo (Gallus gallus). Antioxidants. Feb 1;12(2). p.431.

Yildirimer L.,  et al. (2011) Toxicological considerations of clinically applicable nanoparticles. Nano Today. 6(6), pp.585–607.

Trop M., et al. (2006) Silver-coated dressing acticoat caused raised liver enzymes and argyria-like symptoms in burn patient. Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. 60(3), pp. 648–52.

Fung M. C. & Bowen D. L. (1996) Silver products for medical indications: risk-benefit assessment. Clinical Toxicology. 34(1), pp.119–26.

Miller MR, et al. (2017) Inhaled Nanoparticles Accumulate at Sites of Vascular Disease. ACS Nano. 23;11(5), pp. 4542–52.

Yildirimer L., et al. (2011) Toxicology and clinical potential of nanoparticles. Nano Today. 1;6(6), pp. 585–607.

Viswanath B & Kim S. (2017) Influence of nanotoxicity on human health and environment: The alternative strategies. Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. 1;242, pp. 61–104.

Najahi-Missaoui W, et al. (2020). Safe Nanoparticles: Are We There Yet? International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 1;22(1), pp.1–22.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Arzoo Puri

Written by

Arzoo Puri

Ms. Arzoo Puri has a Master’s degree in biomedical sciences and believes that science is constantly advancing thereby creating new discoveries each day.  She likes to utilize her skills and experience to contribute to the astounding medical advancements that take place every day. In 2022, she completed her master's dissertation and research training from Nanobios Lab, IIT-Bombay, India, and has finished her position as a scientific writer at Eureka, which she had undertaken while pursuing her masters. Her core interests lie in nanotechnology-based research, biomedical science and cannabis science. Her research goals are mainly directed toward the field of biosensors, point-of-care testing devices, bioimplants, drug delivery, medical diseases, and nanomaterials such as Graphene quantum dots.


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