With the advent of the next chapter of nanotechnology, there is an expectation to get more nanomaterials and nano-enabled products to  the marketplace, requiring accelerated risk assessment and the ability to make decisions that can assist the environmental health and  safety (EHS) governance of nanomaterials. We spoke to Professor Andre Nel of UCLA after his talk at SENN2015, in which he was  promoting the use of alternative test strategies for large category screening of new nanomaterials.

The 2nd International Congress on Safety of Engineered Nanoparticles and Nanotechnologies — SENN2015 — took place on 12-15th April 2015. Hosted by the      Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, it is Europe’s foremost gathering of experts in the field of nanosafety. It aims to promote nanosafety by improving the    understanding of the biological basis of the potential risks of nanomaterials.

We spoke to Professor Andre Nel of UCLA after his talk at SENN2015, in which he was promoting the use of alternative test strategies for large category  screening of new nanomaterials.


What was your talk today about?

The central core of my talk, “Use of Alternative Test Strategies, Predictive Toxicological Approaches and Categorisation to expedite Decision Analysis of Nanomaterial Safety”, was about the use of alternative test strategies. That means using non-animal testing to speed up the safety assessment of nanomaterials, and then developing decision trees that can assist regulation and safeguard the public environment through the development of safer nanomaterials.

What is currently standing in the way of introducing alternative test strategies?

The biggest preventative factor is probably convention. Classical assessment methods use descriptive animal studies, but with the rate at which new materials are being produced it has come to a point where alternatives have to be considered. I do not advocate totally doing away with animal testing, but if decision-making can be done more rapidly on broad groups of materials then alternatives might be better.

The chemical toxicity community currently views alternative test strategies as cellular studies that provide limited information and cannot predict what will happen in a living organism. The model that we propose, however, doesn’t involve random in vitro cellular studies but rather uses cellular studies that have possible in vivo disease connections, and then uses that information to investigate large numbers of materials. This can provide an initial decision tree for whether a material poses a hazard and whether it is necessary to conduct further tests.

How well developed is this model?

It’s a well-founded idea in terms of the infrastructures that we’ve developed. We now have a whole suite of technologies based on specific tests called adverse outcome pathways that predict pathophysiology of disease in terms of humans, zebrafish embryos or environmental organisms that are exposed to these materials. So the model is no longer just theoretical – it is already at a stage where a lot of the data is being used.

What are the next steps?

We now need to get a wider community of people who are involved in nanosafety, including regulators and industry, involved in a multi-stakeholder buy-in to the concept of alternative test strategies. We have convened a number of multi-stakeholder studies in which we have brought together leading figures from industry, government agencies and academia to discuss this. It can most certainly work, but will require transparency, a lot of discussion, and a patient step-by-step implementation of the programme.

Finally, what have been your thoughts on the SENN 2015 conference?

It has been a fantastic conference that has presented participants with a wide variety of topics, which is a true indication that the nano-EHS community is rapidly accepting the fact that it is important to bring in new methods of analysis and decision-making. We need to be able to get new technology through to the market place without fear and unnecessary concerns.