New Centre to Study Possible Health Effects of Human Exposure to Nanoparticles

The Health Protection Agency has set up a new centre to study the possible health effects of human exposure to nanoparticles. The National Nanotoxicology Research Centre (NNRC) is being developed at the Agency’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards (CRCE) at Chilton in Oxfordshire. The Agency is collaborating with universities and the Medical Research Council's (MRC) Toxicology Unit to develop the centre and its research programme.

The Agency's Chairman Sir William Stewart said: “The application of nanotechnology is an exciting development with many potential benefits. However, it is very new technology and some element of precaution is required. More research should be carried out into any possible health effects from the use of nanoparticles, and that is the primary task of the new centre.”

The Agency will be collaborating with the Universities of Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Imperial College and King’s College London and the MRC Toxicology Unit in Leicester.

Nanotechnology uses materials of dimensions measured in nanometers (1 x 10-9 metres or 0.000001 millimetres). Such materials can have unusual physicochemical properties which make them useful in applications including medicine, electronics, optical-electronic systems and imaging. They are also used in cosmetic and food products.

Knowledge of the possible interactions between nanomaterials and the body is developing rapidly. NNRC will focus, initially, on the behaviour of nanomaterials that enter the body via the lung and skin. The transportation of nanomaterials in the body will be studied and special emphasis will be placed on investigating the bio-kinetics of nanoparticles. This will involve studies of their entry into the body, their distribution within and their removal from the body.

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