Birnbaum and staff hold conversation with NIEHS Partners
By Eddy Ball
The NIEHS Public Interest Partners joined in a conversation with NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., and staff Dec. 1 in Friendship Heights, Md. While the meeting featured engaging presentations on nanomaterials research by key NIEHS/NTP scientists, the gathering also offered Partners an opportunity to shape the afternoon agenda during an almost three-hour informal lunchtime conversation on a variety of topics.
The NIEHS director and staff meet periodically with the Public Interest Partners to seek input and improve communication with communities and organizations directly affected by the mission and research of NIEHS. The membership represents diverse groups including disease, disability, and environmental education and advocacy organizations. The group lends grassroots perspectives to the research agenda of NIEHS, and serves as a key contributor to the translation of research findings for the public, policy makers, and private foundations.
During her introductory comments, Partners co-chair Karen Miller, who is president of the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition, described the productive long-term relationship between NIEHS and the Public Interest Partners. “Over the years the Partners have had many opportunities to contribute and participate,” she said. The support provided by NIEHS to share information among NGOs [non-governmental organizations] is invaluable.”
A primer on nanomaterials
The rapidly growing number of products that contain nanomaterials entering the market each year poses a concern for environmental health scientists because so little is known about the possible harmful health effects of exposure.
Although the nanomaterials are manufactured from well-studied elements, such as carbon, nickel, and gold, manipulation of size, shape, and other physical and electrical properties can make them behave much differently than their parent elements. At the nano level, materials can also become more bioactive because they can pass through membrane barriers in the body more easily than micro-scale or larger particles. Understanding nanomaterials is made even more challenging because different manufacturing processes can mean the same product, such as a single-wall carbon nanotube, may behave differently depending on where it was produced.
To offer their insight on nanomaterials and nanotechnology, scientists representing the three divisions at NIEHS presented reports on their research agendas:
- Division of the NTP Deputy Director for Science Nigel Walker, Ph.D., spoke on hazard assessment
- Division of Extramural Research and Training Scientist Health Administrator Sri Nadadur, Ph.D., described the NIEHS nanomaterials grant portfolio
- Division of Intramural Research respiratory biology lead researcher and Clinical Research Unit Medical Director Stavros Garantziotis, M.D., discussed basic research at NIEHS
“The presenters at the Partners meeting took the mystery out of nanotechnology,” Betty Mekdeci, executive director of Birth Defect Research for Children and Partners co-chair, said afterwards. “We were introduced to the subject though a fascinating show and tell presentation followed by the basic science and possible adverse effects of nanotechnology.”
Mekdeci and colleagues also appreciated the open-ended lunchtime discussion. “The afternoon was a lively and energetic Q and A [question and answer] exchange between Dr. Birnbaum and all the Partners,” she said.