140402 #Dia Flemming Cassee ambasadeur innovatie RIVM Foto Tjitske Sluis

Through the NanoSafety Cluster, EU funded projects are harmonising their efforts to improve innovation and environmental health and safety in the manufacture of nanomaterials

Engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) are at the cutting edge of science and technology but they are also a fact of everyday life; we use them, wear them, apply them and consume them. At NanoSafety Cluster, collaborative projects at the European level are brought together with a common aim to ensure the environmental health and safety of ENMs.

Professor Flemming Cassee chairs the hazard identification working-group at NanoSafety Cluster. A specialist in inhalation toxicology, Cassee currently holds positions at the Dutch Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and the University of Utrecht. “I’ve been involved with NanoSafety from the start”, states Cassee, “and I think what we do is very valuable.” An initiative of the EC’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, NanoSafety provides crucial information that informs regulation and policy making regarding the production of ENMs.

Synergy and sharing

Synergy between projects is key to moving ENM production forwards. The alternative can mean a proliferation of projects in similar veins, resulting in unnecessary repetition and duplication. Cassee explains: “One of the main purposes of the cluster is to ensure that there isn’t too much overlap. For instance, it takes a lot of time to develop a good standard operating procedure. It’s better that other people can then use that procedure instead of spending a long time developing one themselves.” As well as increasing efficiency, the coordinated activities of the cluster’s participants allows broader, overarching questions to be asked by regulators and policy makers about, for instance, emerging issues or strategies for funding research. And organised the way it is, the NanoSafety Cluster is in a good position to look for the answers.

Common goals

Among the FP7 projects involved with the NanoSafety Cluster are NANOSOLUTIONS and NanoMILE, each working toward the development of a universally applicable framework for nanosafety. NANOSOLUTIONS’ ultimate goal is a safety classification model for ENMs derived from an understanding of their interactions with living organisms. Armed with a classification model, scientists would be able to assess toxicity and predict the harmful effects of ENMs across species. Without prediction, hazard assessments occur when products are scaled up close to the market, a blow to companies invested in materials that fail. Cassee is working in a similar field with NanoMILE. “Here we are trying to identify the mechanisms of action than can cause toxicity of nanomaterials, looking at both human toxicology and ecotoxicology,” he explains. “What we are trying to do now is make sure that all the info we have about the hazards of nanomaterials is used in the design phase.”

Under the aegis of the NanoSafety Cluster, these projects are able to exchange data, methods, ideas and experiences with each other. By encouraging a deeper understanding of these issues, collaboration at the NanoSafety Cluster is improving innovation and removing bottlenecks for environmentally healthier and safer ENMs.