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ARRA Investments in Environmental Health and Safety of Nanomaterials


Public Health Burden
Engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) are very tiny materials about 100,000 times smaller than a single strand of hair. Currently, ENMs are used in many products including sunscreens, cosmetics, sporting goods, stain-resistant clothing, pesticides, tires, electronics, and in medicine for purposes of diagnosis, imaging and drug delivery. Nanotechnology has immense potential for improving human welfare. However, exposure to ENMs may have adverse effects on human health. By 2015, the global demand for nanomaterials and nano-enabled devices is expected to exceed $3.1 trillion. Such an increase in production will likely result in an increase in human exposures with unknown health consequences. Recent studies based on traditional research methods have produced conflicting results about the interaction of nanomaterials with biological systems. The inconsistency of findings significantly limits accurate risk assessment and public health protection. The goal of ARRA investments in ENMs research is to develop reliable and reproducible methods to measure engineered nanomaterial exposure and determine the impact of exposure on biological systems and human health

Measuring ENMs Exposure
The lack of detailed information about the physical and chemical properties of ENMs has made it difficult for researchers to clarify the biological and human health effects of ENMs. Thus, the first step to understanding human risk from ENMs is establishing a reliable way to measure exposures to ENMs. Developing tools capable of detecting and measuring ENMs in complex matrices (drinking water, food, biological fluids such as blood, breast milk, urine, saliva, etc.) is critical to understanding the potential health effects and toxicity of ENMs.  American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds are supporting research to develop better methods for assessing exposure and health effects of nanomaterials. These projects will:
  • Develop reproducible methods for the detection of engineered ENMs in drinking water, commercial products, blood, urine and breast milk.1
  • Conduct a real-time, on-site measurement of ENMs emissions during different phases of product production processes to measure environmental levels and determine human exposure.2
  • Evaluate chemical and physical properties of model airborne nanoparticles in a chamber as they are presented to cells in culture to understand their interactions based on these properties.3
Assessing ENMs Health Effects
Studies on ENM interactions with biological systems are incomplete, and a lot of additional information is needed to understand the potential human health risks from exposure. To understand the biological interactions of ENMs at the cellular, molecular, organ and organism level, studies will use ENMs with known composition, shape, size, surface area and other information. These efforts will provide information on relationships between these properties and biological response. Such information gathered using reliable and reproducible methods will be more valuable in predicting ENMs toxicity and health effects. Additionally, researchers will use data gained from studying molecular interactions at the cellular level to support studies using laboratory animals, which will help determine organ specific health effects and evaluate the potential human health risks and safety of ENMs. The following ARRA funded projects will:
  • Further define the health effects of ENMs by using cells taken from different target organs and grown in Petri dishes to determine the immediate response of cells (measuring various known markers of stress) on interaction with ENMs. Studies using such different cell types will be useful for identifying which cell types are most susceptible to negative effects from ENMs exposure.4,5,6
  • Use an advanced microscope and software to enable real-time visualization of the interactions of ENMs within different compartments of a cell to understand the movement and location of ENMs within cells.3,7
  • Measure molecular interactions of ENMs using materials that mimic the properties of cell membranes. These efforts can be used to screen interaction of ENMs with proteins and lipids.8
  • Study the effects of inhaled ENMs on the respiratory tract and other organs, such as brain and liver, immediately after one or multiple exposures. Results from these investigations will provide information on potential effects at secondary organs in the body.2
  • Evaluate the potential effects of inhaled ENMs on blood vessel function to gain a better understanding of the effects of ENMs on blood circulation and cardiovascular effects.9
  • Investigate reproductive toxic effects of inhaled nanoparticles for their potential to cross placental barrier and cause effects on growing fetus.10
  • Conduct studies using diverse animal models of human diseases such as allergy and asthma to understand the potential of ENMs to exacerbate pre-existing disease conditions.8,11,12,13



  1. 1RC2ES018801-01 -- Detection of engineered nanomaterials in drinking water, food, commercial product -- Westerhoff, Paul k (AZ)
  2. 1RC2ES018741-01 -- Hazard Assessment and Risk Estimation of Inhaled Nanomaterials Exposure- Elder, Alison Cory Pearson (NY)
  3. 1RC2ES018786-01 -- Tying Distinct Nanoparticle Properties to Cellular Interactions, Fate and Response -- Orr, Galya (WA)
  4. 1RC2ES018810-01 -- Characterization Methodologies & Proteomics to Assess Carbon Nanotube Exposure -- Witzman, Frank A (IN)
  5. 1RC2ES018812-01 -- Integrated nanoparticle characterizaton and toxicity assessment -- Vulpe, Christopher D (CA)
  6. 1RC1ES018232-01 -- Novel approaches to evaluate carbon nanotubes health effects -- Pinkerton, Kent Edward (CA)
  7. 1RC2ES018782-01 -- Interactions of engineered nanomaterials with lung alveolar epithelium -- Crandall, Edward David (CA)
  8. 1RC2ES018756-01 -- Biomimetic Microsystem for High Throughput Evaluation of Engineered Nanomaterials -- Worden, Robert (MI)
  9. 1RC1ES018274-01 -- Microvascular Health and Nanoparticle Exposure -- Nurkiewicz, Timothy R (WV)
  10. 1R01ES017427-01 -- Role of Physico-chemical Properties in the Reprotoxicity of Inhaled Cd NP -- Zelikoff, Judith T (NY)
  11. 1RC2ES018742-01 -- Bioactivity of engineered fiber-shaped nanomaterials- Holian, Andrij (MT)
  12. 1RC2ES018766-01 -- Predictive Toxicological Paradigms to Establish Inhalation Toxicology Models -- Nel, Adre Elias (CA)
  13. 1RC2ES018772-01 -- Lung Toxicity of Carbon Nanotubes in Models of Pre-Existing Respiratory Disease -- Bonner, James Christopher (NC)


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