The Slippery Slope of Engineered Nanomaterials; Finding a Balance Between Advancing Technology and Potential Toxicity
Tara Sabo-Attwood, University of Florida

There is an eminent interest in generating reliable data on nanomaterial biotoxicity to better evaluate their health implications. Despite wide-scale use, we have limited understanding of ‘realistic’ toxicity associated with nanoparticle exposures that have the potential to cause adverse outcomes on organisms. As the field of nanotoxicology advances we are faced with uncertainty surrounding which nanoparticles are most relevant, prominent routes of exposure and appropriate test model systems. An overwhelming literature base reports contrasting biological effects in numerous species from microbes to mammals, generating debate and uncertainty surrounding the potential for harm. The advent of new technology brings novel challenges, as exemplified with historic toxicants such as asbestos, which pose a clear association with disease such as pulmonary fibrosis and mesothelioma. This review will highlight the ‘current state of the field’ with respect to biological responses incurred from nanoparticle exposures from cellular impacts to whole organisms and their relationship to current toxicological and risk paradigms. Major challenges posed to understanding toxicity of nano-agents will be presented including difficulties with exposure assessments and analytical detection, selection of the most appropriate particles to investigate, and nanoparticle properties, such as size and surface chemistry, that drive targeted health effects. As it will be impossible to exhaustively study all properties of nanoparticles, it is proposed that chief characteristics of their biological behavior may be used as indicators of cytotoxicity for predicting in vivo health outcomes. Finally, assessments focused on the interplay between nanomaterials and other known pollutants, both chemical and biological, have been greatly overlooked within the framework of health impacts and should be considered.

Review Article:

Maynard, Andrew D. and Warheit, David B. and Philbert, Martin A., The New Toxicology of Sophisticated Materials: Nanotoxicology and Beyond, Toxicological Sciences 120(S1), S109–S129 (2011).

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