The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the award of two grants totaling almost $600,000 to Oregon State University (OSU) for nanotechnology research. These grants will evaluate whether some manmade nanomaterials could be toxic to human health.
Nanotechnology is the science of manipulating extremely small particles – those ranging in size range of 1 to 100 nanometers. The physical, chemical, electronic, and optical properties of these nanoparticles may be different from the same material in larger form.
The first OSU grant award, for $400,000, will screen a wide range of commonly manufactured nanomaterials to determine their potential interactions with biological processes. If the OSU research team, led by Dr. Robert Tanguay, finds nanomaterials that produce adverse effects, they will identify the potential cellular and genetic targets of these nanomaterials and group the particles by composition and effects. "We believe it is critical to couple the development of novel nanomaterials with the assessment of their effects on biology so society can get the maximum benefit from the nanotechnology revolution," said Tanguay.
The second OSU grant award for $199,993 will determine how manmade nanomaterials could damage or kill cells. Dr. Alan Bakalinsky is studying the relationship between specific characteristics of nanoparticles, like shape and structure, and their effects on cells. The work is expected to lead to the development of safety guidelines for industrial and environmental exposure to nanomaterials. "We're trying to identify specific structures in manufactured nanoparticles that might cause damage to cells," said Bakalinsky. "If we can determine which shapes and structures are most dangerous to cell function, it should be possible to design the materials to avoid those shapes and minimize the risk of damage."
Manmade nanomaterials are currently found in hundreds of consumer products like cosmetics, clothing and personal care products.
“As the use of these materials becomes more common, we want to make sure that engineered or manmade nanomaterials will not have unexpected consequences for people or the environment,” emphasizes EPA Region 10 Administrator Elin Miller. “For that reason, we are pleased to work with partners such as Oregon State University to advance our knowledge in the science of nanotechnology.”