How do we balance the potential of nanotechnology with the potential hazards from new and often inadequately characterized materials? The rapid expansion of nanotechnology is a powerful scientific and economic force. However, we need to match this progress with careful evaluation of the possible toxicity of nanomaterials and technologies. This process can be made more efficient by searching for fundamental principles that govern biological responses to nanomaterials, rather than assessing the toxicity of specific nanomaterials one at a time. How do we discover the rules of nanotoxicology? A promising approach is to examine families of engineered and rigorously characterized particles and to study the role of such factors as particle size and shape, composition, and charge. Our NanoCenter is generating these rational families of particles, holding some parameters constant while changing others systematically.

We bring together modern in vivo and in vitro toxicologic approaches to carry out the biologic evaluation of nanomaterials. We also seek to advance methods needed to evaluate the safety of nanotechnology. Our NanoCenter combines excellence in material and exposure science with demonstrated skills in lung toxicology, pharmacokinetics, and biology. By developing and utilizing industrially relevant ENM generation systems that enable us to control the properties of “real world” nanomaterial exposures, we will better understand how particle dynamics and physical and chemical parameters alter both pharmacokinetics and the extent of possible injury. Correlations will be made between in vivo and in vitro methods as well as between in vitro systems using rodent versus human cells. We will also study safer nanomaterial formulation concepts, which can reduce the environmental and health implications of ENMs.

The NanoCenter is also developing and deploying a variety of exposure assessment technologies to define human exposures to nanomaterials during their full life cycle (manufacture, use, and disposal). Using methods of lifecycle analysis (LCA), we will assess exposures to nanomaterials from “cradle to grave.” Finally, all these data will be integrated using methods of risk assessment and physiologically based pharmacokinetic models. The end result will be a science-based guide on appropriate standards for safety. We neither want to create human health hazards nor do we want to erect unreasonable barriers to the creative uses of nanomaterials in industry and medicine.