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Models to protect human health and the environment

Engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) now form the basis of a myriad of products and devices across numerous sectors. An EU-funded study has laid the groundwork and pointed the way to descriptive models to predict toxicity.
Models to protect human health and the environment
As their presence in daily life continues to increase, it is important to address how ENPs might be released and taken up by living organisms and with what effects. Although nanotechnology is a relatively immature field, numerous datasets correlating nanoparticle physicochemical properties with toxicity provide a start point for the development of models of reactivity and toxicity.

With EU support of the project 'Modelling nanoparticle toxicity: Principles, methods, novel approaches' (MODNANOTOX) , EU and United States partners developed models and proposed recommendations based on gaps in data and techniques.

Scientists began by assimilating, evaluating and prioritising existing data. Bioaccumulation models covered all levels from organism to tissue to cell, and described differing exposure conditions. Importantly, work demonstrated that bioaccumulation and mortality are more dependent on organism characteristics than on ENP properties.

Work on the quantitative structure–activity models highlighted the limitations imposed by a lack of appropriate data and inconsistent data formats. Scientists converted the comprehensive MODNANOTOX database to a format compatible with emerging standards to enhance accessibility, utility and sustainability. As more data continue to become available, models in the field will have increasingly greater applicability.

MODNANOTOX also advanced existing exposure and fate models. Again, research highlighted the lack of a parameter (alpha parameter) in the literature required for realistic models and making it only possible to do scenario modelling without validation. Two publications were produced as a result of this finding. Researchers produced worst-case exposure scenarios of environmental exposures and of the most vulnerable species groups leading to a population-level risk model and framework for risk assessment.

The project team made an important contribution to the standardisation of nanotoxicity data. Scientists provided quality assurance criteria and classifications for nanoparticle characterisation, and modifications to protocols for aquatic assessment. They also proposed revisions to risk assessment protocols.

Modelling based on experimental data is a powerful tool in any field to predict outcomes of various scenarios and nanotoxicity is no exception. MODNANOTOX has laid the groundwork for better, more uniform databases regarding ENPs and toxicity. These databases will in turn facilitate improved models for better protection of the public and the environment.

Related information

Keywords

Engineered nanoparticle, toxicity, risk assessment, bioaccumulation, environmental exposure
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