At NIEHS, a unique combination of knowledge, expertise, and 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. This field is known as Nano Environmental Health and Safety, or Nano EHS.
Engineered nanomaterials (ENM) have unique properties with potential to advance product development in electronics, medicine, and other fields. Although ENM have promising benefits, we know little about their potential effects on human health and the environment.
Nano-sized particles can enter the human body through inhalation, ingestion, or contact with skin. Scientists funded by NIEHS work to better understand the potential health risks of ENM exposure, and how the route of exposure influences the way these materials interact with biological systems to affect health.
The challenges for conducting research on nanoscale materials — determining dose, assessing biological response, and quantifying exposure and risk — are the same challenges on which NIEHS built its reputation.
What NIEHS is Doing
Recognizing that engineered nanomaterials (ENM) are increasingly being used in everyday products, such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, sunscreens, clothing, and electronics, NIEHS developed an interagency federal research strategy to explore this emerging field. The outcome of these efforts will allow scientists to design nanomaterials that are both innovative and safe for commercialization.
NIEHS encourages and supports research into the underlying properties of ENM to determine their potential biocompatibility or toxicity to human health. Consortia 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.
NIEHS prioritizes ENMs with a high potential for human exposure based on production volume and incorporation into common consumer products.
The Nanomaterials Health Implications Research (NHIR) Consortium links the physical and chemical properties of ENMs produced in high quantities and commonly used in consumer products, called high priority ENMs, and newly developed ENMs to biological responses using a variety of testing approaches (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 that represent real-world scenarios. The NHIR builds on the NIEHS Centers for Nanotechnology Health Implications Research (NCNHIR) Consortium, which demonstrated a clear relationship between the physical and chemical properties of a small group of ENMs and their toxicity at molecular, cellular, and whole organism levels.
NIEHS also partnered with the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Nanotechnology Laboratory (CaNanoLab) to support the storage of, and public access to, data generated by the NHIR Consortium. By promoting data sharing, the CaNanoLab portal provides researchers access to information needed to develop and test models that predict how ENMs interact with biological systems to affect health.
For additional information on NIEHS grantee research since 2010, visit the Nanotechnology Notable Papers and Advances webpage.
Visit the Past Nano EHS Research Programs webpage to read about previous NIEHS-funded research.