The morning session on the first day of the conference was titled “Nanosafety: Setting the scene”. Kai Savolainen of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health began with his talk on the importance of risk assessments for engineered nanomaterials. Exposure and hazard assessment of ENMs are increasingly important in workplaces where people are exposed to them and in environments where ENMs may be released from the production.
Without hazard data, reliable exposure assessment is highly important because it enables understanding of what hazards may be associated with an ENM provided that some dose response information of the hazards of the ENM are available. When both reliable hazard and exposure information on a given ENM are available, reliable risk assessment becomes possible.
In the future, more harmonisation and collaboration will be needed regarding regulations on exposure and hazard assessment and legislation on risk assessment between the US, the EU and the rest of the world. Faster paths from discovery and innovation to safe products and processes will also be important. The scientific community urgently need to face these challenges and provide new solutions to assure the safety of novel materials and their applications.
James C Bonner of North Carolina State University then spoke about the mechanisms of susceptibility to nanoparticle-induced lung disease. Bio-persistent ENMs such as carbon nanotubes have been shown to stimulate immune and inflammatory responses in the lungs of rodents, suggesting that these same materials could cause lung disease in humans exposed to them. It is thus important to understand the mechanisms of susceptibility to ENMs to identify those at greatest risk.
Bonner’s work has shown that mice with pre-existing lung inflammation caused by white blood cells responding to allergens or bacteria showed increased pulmonary fibrosis (scarring in the lungs) when exposed to carbon nanotubes. Transgenic mice with deficiencies in certain immune regulatory proteins showed similar susceptibility.
Next up was Richard Handy of the University of Plymouth, who gave a talk on the use of fish, invertebrates and microbes in systems biology. In the early days of omics, there was a lack of integration of molecular biology with whole organism biology. Systems biology is helping to overcome these issues. There are a number of practical considerations for the systems biology approach, such as dealing with the low biomass of small organisms, and locating important minor proteins in the face of large backgrounds of other proteins. As well as this, the effects of the nanomaterials on experiments have to be accounted for, and the physic-chemical properties of these substances on the proteomes or metabolomes of the organisms must also be considered.
The final talk of the session came from Chunying Chen of the National Centre for Nanoscience and Technology of China, who spoke about high-content screening and omics techniques for assessing nanomaterial toxicity. High-content screening is a cell-based multiparametric image analysis technique with the high-throughput and quantitative data processing ability from acquired image data. At the same time, multi-omics techniques have been developed to identify the biomarkers of related effects and signalling pathways and their fate and transformation in vivo. To predict potential medical value or toxicity of nanoparticles, it is necessary to understand the chemical transformation during intracellular processes. Synchrotron radiation based techniques are becoming more important for this.