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Published on 11.04.13

CRANN Researchers Develop New Method to Test Safety of Nanomaterials

Dr. Adriele Prina-Mello

A Multidisciplinary team at Trinity College Dublin from the School of Medicine and CRANN, the Science Foundation Ireland funded nanoscience institute, has developed a new screening approach to test the safety of nanomaterials and their effects on human cells. This research, which will have a significant impact across the many industries that utilise nanotechnology, was published in leading Scientific Reports (Nature Publishing Group) earlier this year.

Nanomaterials are particles tens of thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair, which given their size and unique characteristics, have the potential to transform manufacturing. Certain nanomaterials could be used in the development of medical devices, including personalised drug delivery treatments, highly sensitive diagnostic screening against cancer and multifunctional treatment of  autoimmune conditions.

Continually monitoring and ensuring their safety is therefore a fundamental part of the research process and paves the way for new technologies to be developed.

CRANN researchers Professor Yuri Volkov and Dr. Adriele Prina-Mello and their team focused on the citrullination reaction, a post-translational modification of the amino acid arginine from its normal status in proteins into the amino acid citrulline. Citrulline, in turn, is a molecule which can cause inflammation in the body.

In their study, CRANN researchers Professor Yuri Volkov and Dr. Adriele Prina-Mello and their team found that certain nanomaterials ( carbon ‘nanotubes’) had the effect of raising citrulline protein levels, a molecule which can cause inflammation in the body.However, crucially, the researchers found that by chemically modifying the carbon nanotube surface, the inflammatory process was reduced or even suppressed.

Prof. Volkov commented that “This is the first time that nanomaterial safety has been tested using citrullination markers and we believe that this is a crucial breakthrough in testing the safety of commercially exploitable nanomaterials.”

Dr. Adriele Prina-Mello said, “Our results show that by controlling how we produce nanomaterials, we can ensure their safety. This will ultimately pave the way for the use of customised materials such as “safety-proof” modified carbon nanotubes in future health applications, like smart drug delivery systems for cancer and diabetes treatment and non-invasive sensitive diagnostics, medical imaging and exploratory keyhole surgery”.

 “This is a key breakthrough,” said Dr. Diarmuid O’Brien, Executive Director at CRANN. “Nanomaterials are bringing exciting developments across medicine, energy, technology, pharmaceuticals, and by continually researching methods to ensure their safety, opportunities for new applications will be identified. Quality research like that at CRANN is so crucial, in order to get the very best from these nanomaterials now and into the future.”

The research team at CRANN now plans to extend their research method beyond carbon nanotubes, to other commercially exploitable nanomaterials such as silver, iron oxide and also graphene in order to expand the concept of “safe-by-design” approach to commercial applications.

The article, published in the January edition of Nature is available at this link:

About the Researchers:
Professor Volkov is Director of Research at Trinity College Dublin’s School of Medicine, and is leading the European funded NAMDIATREAM project, which contains seven SMEs, two multinationals and 13 academic institutions and has a total budget of €12M. It aims to develop a nanotechnology based toolkit to enable early detection of the most common cancer types.
Dr. Prina-Mello is vice-chair of the Nanodiagnostic Working Group on the European Technology Platform for Nanomedicine which is addressing the application of nanotechnology to achieve breakthroughs in healthcare.

Prof. Volkov and Dr. Prina-Mello are also partners of MULTIFUN FP7 project which focuses on the development of multifuntionalised magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (MNP) which aim to combine diagnostic and therapeutic features against cancer and cancer stem cells; Celtic Alliance for Nanohealth which aims to promote the regional development of nanotechnology-driven healthcare SMEs.

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