At NIEHS, a unique combination of knowledge and expertise — and a commitment to understanding the role of environmental exposures in human disease — enables a novel approach to the study of nanomaterials and their potential effects on human health, called Nano EHS. The critical research challenges for nanoscale materials — determining dose, assessing biological response, and quantifying exposure and risk — are the same challenges on which NIEHS has built its reputation.
Recognizing that engineered nanomaterials are quickly enveloping us through products of daily life, such as drugs, cosmetics, electronics, and consumer items ranging from toys to laundry machines, the NIEHS led the U.S. government in exploring this area of research. We are continuing to expand inquiry into this emerging and important field. The outcome of these efforts will guide the design of nanomaterials that are both innovative and safe for commercialization.
NIEHS encourages and supports research into the underlying properties of engineered nanomaterials (ENM) to determine their potential biocompatibility or toxicity to human health. Consortiums established by NIEHS are fostering collaboration aimed at building a foundation of understanding on how the unique chemical and physical properties that emerge at the nanoscale may affect interactions between environmental exposures and the body.
Nanomaterials Health Implications Research (NHIR) Consortium
The Nanomaterials Health Implications Research (NHIR) Consortium was formed in 2016 to help link the physical and chemical properties of high priority ENMs to biological responses (RFA-ES-15-012, RFA-ES-15-013). Knowledge gained from this collaborative research effort will allow scientists to predict potential health effects associated with diverse routes of exposure.
The NHIR builds on the NIEHS Centers for Nanotechnology Health Implications Research (NCNHIR) Consortium, which has demonstrated a clear relationship between the physical and chemical properties of a small library of ENMs and their toxicity at molecular, cellular, and whole organism levels. NHIR research will expand our understanding of the interactions between ENM and biological systems by using a diverse set of nanomaterials, including emerging 2D- and 3D- ENMs with a high likelihood of human exposure. This consortium will also examine multiple routes of exposure that represent real world scenarios. NHIR will focus on ENMs produced in high quantities and commonly used in consumer products and also will examine newly developed materials. A variety of testing approaches and physiologically relevant models will help provide detailed biological response information for these ENMs.
NIEHS Centers for Nanotechnology Health Implications Research (NCNHIR) Consortium
The NCNHIR Consortium was formed to investigate the correlation between biological endpoints and the chemical and physical properties of ENMs to allow hazard characterization of these materials. From 2010 to 2016, this interdisciplinary program included Cooperative Centers, individual grantees, and contractual agreements that facilitated coordinated characterization efforts among grantees who each worked with a set of defined ENMs at their respective labs.
- Evaluated the toxicity of 30 ENMs, including metals and metal oxides, with varying size, shape, and surface charge.
- Studied ways in which ENMs are broken down and the effects of differences.
- Produced comprehensive biological response profiles of silver nanoparticles with varied size and surface coatings and multiwalled carbon nanotubes with three different aspect ratios.
- Studied multiple routes of exposure, including inhalation, oral, and IV.
- Revealed characteristics of particle absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion, as well as toxicokinetics.
- Evaluated the role of genetic and disease susceptibility.
- For silver, developed in vitro sedimentation, dissolution, dispersion, and dosimetry modeling.
NIEHS Nano Grand Opportunity Grant Program (Nano GO)
The NIEHS Nano GO program supported large-scale research projects that accelerated critical breakthroughs, early and applied research on cutting-edge technologies, and new approaches to improve the synergy and interactions among multi- and interdisciplinary research teams.
Through this program, which was supported from 2009 to 2013 by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds, new assays, methods, and models to predict biological response to nanomaterials were developed. One important outcome from the Nano GO program was the development and validation of a round robin of in vitro and in vivo assays for evaluating initial toxicity response of ENMs. This work was published in Environmental Health Perspectives.
Notable Papers and Advances
For additional information on what NIEHS grantees are doing to understand the health effects of human exposure to nanomaterials, visit the Nanotechnology Notable Papers and Advances webpage.