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Nanomaterials: assessing their safety & health risks

February 6, 2006

Nanotechnology industry is on the rise and with it comes the need for a new testing method that would help manufacturers monitor and test the safety and health risks of engineered nanomaterials. Currently, no government or industry regulations exist for this emerging technology. Nanotechnology is rapidly expanding and promises to exceed the impact of the Industrial Revolution, projecting to become a $1 trillion market by 2015.

Nanotechnology involves manipulating atoms to create tiny molecules, smaller than one one-thousandth the diameter of a human hair. ('Nano' means 'one billionth of a meter'). At such a small size, materials exhibit unconventional physical and chemical properties that allow them to perform amazing new feats in the areas of electronics, optics, sensoring, material strength, catalysis, and drug delivery.

Engineered nanomaterials are already being used in sporting goods, tires, stain-resistant clothing, sunscreens, cosmetics, and electronics and will also be utilized increasingly in medicine for purposes of diagnosis, imaging and drug delivery. The ability of nanotechnology to interact with biological materials leads to the possibility that they may be harmful to humans and the environment.

The testing model developed at UCLA is based on toxicity testing for occupational and air pollution particles, which include nanoparticles. Nanoparticles are the most toxic ingredient in these environmental pollutants. A mature toxicological science has emerged from the study of these particles, providing a framework for a predictive testing strategy applicable to engineered nanomaterials.


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