The application of nanoparticles (NPs) in many important fields, including electronics, biotechnology or medicine, has been rapidly increasing in our century. By virtue of their tiny dimensions, the effects of NPs in biological systems are by now recognized to be entirely different from those of conventional chemicals or biological agents. Despite the major efforts worldwide to learn more about the potential environmental and health effects of these newly developing and more and more widely produced NPs, the scientific basis underlying these unprecedented effects allowing proper safety control of NPs does not seem to cope with the demand. Moreover, hazardous application of NPs under unsafe production and working conditions may bring new challenges to medicine. In order to meet the requirements of a knowledge-based control of the environmental, especially the health-related effects of NPs, a new and synergistic strategy for research groups functioning in the area of nanoscale material science and modern biology is much needed. Contrary to the numerous, but reductionist and often diverging studies which have been performed so far, our strategy offers a comprehensive, synergistic combination of state-of-the-art and inventive, complementary NP testing approaches. We are also supporting the implementation of the “twenty-first century toxicology” articulated by the U.S. National Research Council, which suggests the replacement of animal tests by modern, efficient and human-relevant methods without major animal sacrifice. In accordance, the NANOTOX strategy, in addition to some important and unavoidable animal studies, focuses on the development and use of human cell-based test systems for NP assessment.
We are well aware that the European Commission’s Framework Programmes support and encourage research and development in nanotechnology, especially in the fields related to environment, health and safety (nanoEHS) issues (see http://www.observatorynano.eu/). Key projects identified in this regard include knowledge transfer, standardisation, regulation, guidance and public engagement, as well as the role of professional bodies. Although several projects have already been funded to investigate the potential EHS issues of nanomaterials within the FPs, a comprehensive large program supported by the ERC may significantly improve the specific research aspects of such projects. The independent Scientific Committee of the European Commission on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) recently published an opinion on developments in the risk assessment of nanomaterials (NMs). The opinion, built on and confirming earlier documents indicates that methodologies to assess exposure to manufactured NMs to humans and the environment and the identification of potential hazards require further development. For lack of a general approach, SCENIHR maintains its earlier recommendation to perform risk assessment case-by-case for each nanomaterial (see: http://ec.europa.eu/health/scientific_committees/emerging/opinions/index_en.htm#nano).
The www.nanomedicina.hu website is specifically dedicated to inform and shape the opinion of the lay public as well as to promote advocacy, professional education and synergy of expert laboratories within and outside the host institute, joined to the Nanotoxicity Research Platform. Thus, the website specifically targeted to both lay and professional audience and run by experts within a large, multi- and inter-disciplinary Research Centre for Natural Sciences, recently established by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (RCNS HAS), will provide objective and balanced information about NM safety assessments. We are also aiming to improve data management, including the creation and implementation of a common database. Built as a forum platform, the website also promotes the debate on the prevention of risks to human health and environmental safety arising from exposure to nanoscale substances. In relation to the use of animals to test NMs we are lobbying to ensure that all available, validated non-animal methods and testing strategies achieve regulatory acceptance in the EU.
Prof. Julianna Kardos
Institute of Molecular Pharmacology
Research Centre for Natural Sciences
Hungarian Academy of Sciences