Nanomaterials, which are a thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair, have been developed to perform a variety of roles, including stain resistance in clothes, preservatives in food and cancer treatment in drugs.
The potential benefits of the technology are great, but concerns remain about whether safety issues will arise in the future as more and more nanoparticles – an area comparatively under researched – are used for different purposes.
Nanoparticles, for instance, are used to make sunscreens transparent on the skin. Firms say they offer greater protection against the sun but critics fear the size of the particles may allow them to permeate protective barriers in the body.
Their scale also changes the way they interact with other cells, which could lead to unforeseen toxic effects.
Edinburgh Napier’s new Centre for Nano Safety has been set up to identify whether a variety of nanoparticles can enter the human body – as well as other species such as bacteria, insects and plants – and cause harm.
Its aim is to find out what characteristics of nanoparticles might make them toxic so the information can be used:
- by industry to design safer products,
- by regulators to generate legislation to protect humans and the environment, and
- by consumers to make informed choices.
Scientists at the new centre have attracted £1.3m worth of funding and have established collaborations with researchers in 27 European countries as well as the US, Japan and Australia.
Professor Anne Glover, Chief Scientific Adviser for Scotland officially launched the new centre today (Wednesday, November 11) at Edinburgh Napier’s Craighouse Campus.
She said: “Given the widespread use of nanomaterials in variety of everyday products, it is essential for us to fully understand them and their potential impacts. This centre is one of the first in the UK to bring together nano-science research across human, environment, reproductive health and microbiology to ensure the safe and sustainable ongoing use of nanotechnology.”
Director of the Centre for Nano Safety, Professor Vicki Stone said: “Nanomaterials are used in a diverse range of products from medicines and water purifiers to make-up, food, paints, clothing and electronics. It is therefore essential that we fully understand their longterm impact. We are dedicated to understanding the ongoing health and environmental affects of their use and then helping shape future policy for their development. The launch of this new centre is a huge step forward in this important area of research.”
The Centre for Nano Safety, part of Edinburgh Napier’s School of Life Sciences, has been funded by a wide variety of bodies, including: BBSRC, Carnegie Trust, The Colt Foundation, The Daphne Jackson Trust, DEFRA, Economic & Social Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Environment Agency, Health Protection Agency, Joint Environment and Human Health Programme (UK), Medical Research Council, Ministry of Defence, Natural Environment Research Council, Seventh Framework Programme, Unilever and the Wellcome Trust.