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Nanoparticle toxicity doesn't get wacky at the smallest sizes
Date:2/14/2009

CHICAGO -- The smallest nano-sized silica particles used in biomedicine and engineering likely won't cause unexpected biological responses due to their size, according to work presented today. The result should allay fears that cells and tissues will react unpredictably when exposed to the finest silica nanomaterials in industrial or commercial applications.

Nanotoxicologist Brian Thrall and colleagues found that, mostly, size doesn't matter, by using total surface area as a measure of dose, rather than particle mass or number of particles, and observing how cultured cells responded biologically.

"If you consider surface area as the dose metric, then you get similar types of responses independent of the size of the particle," said Thrall, a scientist at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. "That suggests the chemistry that drives the biological responses doesn't change when you get down to the smallest nanoparticle."

Nanoparticles are materials made up of spherical particles that are on average 100 to 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. They are being used in tires, biomedical research, and cosmetics. Researchers are exploring these tiny spheres because their physical and chemical properties at that size offer advantages that standard materials don't, such as being able to float through blood vessels to deliver drugs.

But whether these materials are safe for human consumption is not yet clear. Previous work suggested in some cases, nanoparticles become more toxic to cells the smaller the particles get.

Thrall presented this toxicology data on amorphous silica nanoparticles today at the 2009 American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting. He also presented data on which cellular proteins the nanoparticles use to get inside cells.

One difficulty in measuring toxicity is that not everyone agrees which kind of dose unit to c
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Contact: Mary Beckman
mary.beckman@pnl.gov
509-375-3688
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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