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Volume 86 Issue 37 | p. 5 | News of The Week
Issue Date: September 15, 2008

Evaluating Nanomaterials

Research alliance will develop means to predict hazards of nanoscale materials
Department: Science & Technology
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NANO-BIO INTERACTIONS
Efforts are under way to develop standard protocols for predicting how nanoparticles, such as those depicted here covered in proteins (green), will interact with biological systems.
Credit: Vicki Colvin/Rice University
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NANO-BIO INTERACTIONS
Efforts are under way to develop standard protocols for predicting how nanoparticles, such as those depicted here covered in proteins (green), will interact with biological systems.
Credit: Vicki Colvin/Rice University

MATERIALS SCIENTISTS and toxicologists from the U.S., Europe, and Japan have joined forces to develop standard protocols for testing the environmental, health, and safety (EHS) impacts of nanomaterials. The new alliance, called the International Alliance for NanoEHS Harmonization (IANH), was formed because of a lack of agreement among scientists over procedures for determining how nanomaterials interact with biological systems.

"There are no existing standard approaches to testing nanomaterials, and that has led to differences in results and, in some cases, differences of opinion among scientists working in different places," says IANH Chair Kenneth Dawson of the Centre for BioNano Interactions at University College Dublin.

The new alliance hopes to work out those differences through round-robin testing, in which scientists from around the world perform the same experiments with the same materials to see whether they get the same results. They will then try to reach a consensus on protocols related to sample preparation and characterization, cell culture testing, animal testing, environmental assessment, and other areas of concern. Any researcher from any sector—academia, government, or industry—is welcome to join the group, Dawson notes.

A unique aspect of the alliance is that it was created by scientists with funding from their own organizations. "We are all motivated as individual scientists to participate. We are all contributing our own resources and time to it. It is truly a collective effort," says Vicki L. Colvin, professor of chemistry and chemical engineering and director of the Center for Biological & Environmental Nanotechnology at Rice University.

Colvin
Credit: Britt Erickson/C&EN
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Colvin
Credit: Britt Erickson/C&EN

A lot of the motivation for the alliance came from discussions with the quantitative biology community about their efforts to develop standards for reporting results from microarray experiments, Colvin tells C&EN. "It was an inspiration talking to folks who have struggled with the challenges of measuring biological response in a very quantitative way," she notes. She adds that such quantitative work "requires that you get consensus on very exact experimental details."

The group expects to have some protocols ready for publication within a few months, "but this is going to be a continually evolving effort," says Mark R. Wiesner, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke University and a partner in the new alliance. Eventually, the alliance hopes to hand off those protocols to more broad-based standards-setting organizations, such as ASTM International and the International Organization for Standardization.

Nearly everyone agrees that standard protocols are needed to understand the hazards of nanomaterials. "Government regulations can set the framework for how to handle the risks of nanomaterials, but first we need to characterize those materials. We need standardization of testing," says Antje Grobe, a social scientist at the University of Stuttgart, in Germany. Grobe promotes dialogue between experts, public authorities, and nongovernmental organizations throughout Europe on issues of risk governance and sustainable technology development.

Scientists involved in the effort say the alliance has advantages over waiting for the government to lead the way. "There are always a lot of complex rules and agreements when government agencies get together to do things. So we are doing this as scientists; it's just much easier to get things done quickly and move ahead," Dawson says.

 
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