ROCHESTER, N.Y., April 6 -- University of Rochester (UR) scientist Gunter Oberdorster, PhD, has received a $5.5 million grant from the Department of Defense (D0D) to conduct research into possible health hazards involved in nanotechnology.
Oberdorster, a professor of toxicology in environmental medicine and director of the university's EPA Particulate Matter Center, has already completed one study showing that inhaled nano-sized particles accumulate in the nasal cavities, lungs and brains of rats. Scientists speculate this buildup could lead to harmful inflammation and the risk of brain damage or central nervous system disorders. That study is scheduled to appear in the May 2004 journal Inhalation Toxicology, and is receiving widespread attention in the scientific community; it was cited at an international nanotechnology/health conference earlier this year in England by the Institute of Physics.
Gunter Oberdorster said, "I'm not advocating that we stop using nanotechnology, but I do believe we should continue to look for adverse health effects. Sixty years ago scientists showed that in primates, nano-sized particles traveled along nerves from the nose and settled into the brain. But this has mostly been forgotten. The difference today is that more nanoparticles exist, and the technology is moving forward to find additional uses for them -- and yet we do not have answers to important questions of the possible health impact."
Last month, Eva Oberdorster, PhD -- Gunter's daughter, and an environmental toxicologist with Southern Methodist University in Dallas -- was widely quoted about her findings that a type of Buckyball -- a carbon nanoparticle that shows promise for electronic, commercial and pharmaceutical uses -- can cause significant brain damage in fish. (See Photonics.com news, March 29, "Buckyball Causes Brain Damage in Fish")
Backed by $600 million in recent federal funding and the support of President Bush, nanotechnology is a rising industry in the US. Japan, Taiwan and other countries are also racing to produce nanomaterials, which can be applied to electronics, optics, medical devices and other industries.
The technology evolved when scientists found ways to manipulate carbon, zinc and gold molecules into microscopic clusters that could be useful in building almost anything ultrasmall. Medical applications under development include using nanoparticles as drug-delivery systems, or as a super-advanced type of radiation therapy that could zap tumors with heat-seeking missile precision.
But some scientists are concerned the industry is moving too fast. The DoD notified Oberdorster and colleagues last week of the award, which will be used to develop a model that would predict the toxicity of certain nanoparticles. Oberdorster is leading the five-year study, employing a multidisciplinary team from 10 departments at UR, the University of Minnesota and the University of Washington at St. Louis.
For more information, visit: urmc.rochester.edu