The University of Southampton

Adventurous research will investigate the safety of nanoparticles

Published: 
26 February 2009
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Dr Maurits de Planque of the Nano and SENSe research groups in ECS has been awarded funding of over £50,000 to investigate nanoparticles and to begin to develop new ways of determining their safety.

The grant comes from a special fund – Adventures in Research – established by the University of Southampton to help newly appointed staff at the beginning of their research careers. The funding will enable Dr de Planque and joint recipient of the award Dr Philip Williamson of the School of Biological Sciences to use specialized equipment to advance their research.

Nanoparticles are increasingly used to enhance the properties of a wide variety of materials, including consumer products such as sunscreen and cosmetics. They are also being developed for medical applications such as targeted drug delivery.

‘Given their increasing applications, it’s very important to be sure that nanoparticles are totally safe,’ says Dr de Planque.

‘Our current procedures for investigating their safety usually involve adding nanoparticles to cell cultures and monitoring what happens to the cells. However, the complexity of the procedures produces widely varying results, so that both acute toxicity and an absence of any harmful effect have been reported when testing the same substance.’

The researchers aim to look at simplified versions of cells - model membranes - and to compare the effect of nanospheres of different size and surface chemistry.

‘Model membranes are relatively easy to prepare but they mimic the barrier function of a real cell well enough for us to systematically investigate a large set of particles,’ says Dr de Planque. ‘The combined expertise and equipment in ECS and SBS will enable us to study when the nanospheres damage the model cells and when they have no adverse effect.

‘This will help us gain an understanding of how a parameter like nanoparticle size determines cellular interactions, which will aid in the future development of safe nanotechnology.’

For further information contact Joyce Lewis; tel.023 8059 5453

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