The rapid development of nanotechnology has increased fears about the health risks of nano-objects. Are these fears justified? Do we need a new discipline, nanotoxicology, to evaluate the risks? Harald F. Krug and Peter Wick of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology discuss these questions in the journal Angewandte Chemie.
“Research into the safety of nanotechnology combines biology, chemistry, and physics with workplace hygiene, materials science, and engineering to create a truly interdisciplinary research field,” explain Krug and Wick. “There are several factors to take into account in the interaction of nano-objects with organisms,” they add.
The term nanotoxicology is fully justified. “Nanoscale particles can enter into cells by other means of transport than larger particles.” Another critical feature is the large surface area of nano-objects relative to their volume. If a similar amount of substance is absorbed, an organism comes into contact with a significantly larger number of molecules with nanoparticles than with larger particles.