Brussels, 03 May 2005
The nanosciences are considered by many as a key technology for the 21st century, with an ever-increasing range of possible applications. In health for example, new drug delivery systems based on nanoparticles are said to be on the brink of delivering major developments in drug therapy. Nanoscience is also acting as a motor for new materials and innovative solutions in the areas of energy and environmental protection.
However, the recent discovery that the exposure of animals to nanoparticles can lead to neurological damage means that research into safety is crucial to the dynamic and sustainable development of these new technologies.
The European Commission is therefore providing seven million euro to a Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) project aimed at developing methods for the safe use of nanoparticles.
Bringing together 23 partners from seven countries, the Nanosafe 2 project, launched in April 2005, will 'establish processes to detect, track and characterise nanoparticles', explains one of the commercial partners in the project, German chemical company BASF.
'Such methods are a prerequisite for determining any possible risks to man or the environment, and for further optimising the safety of production processes and plants. Nanosafe2 looks at the entire lifecycle of nanoparticles, from their production and storage through to transport and use in a finished product. The results of the research will subsequently be made available worldwide in the form of databases, official procedures and workshops,' adds BASF in a statement.
BASF will, more specifically, study the potential health risks associated with the inhalation of nanoparticles. There is currently a lack of scientific data on this issue and on how certain nanoparticles behave inside the body.
BASF will also investigate the way in which drugs can be delivered. For example, the formulation of drugs in nanoparticles can allow larger compounds, such as peptides, that could previously only be delivered by injection, to be taken via an inhaler. Similarly, nanotechnology can also be useful for the improved formulation of injectable drugs, new implantable drug reservoirs for long-term therapy, as well as increasing the bioavailability of oral drugs, and making transdermal delivery more efficient.
In is hoped nanoparticles will help diminish the amount of active drugs that need to be delivered to the patient, reduce side effects, as well as potentially decrease the cost of therapy.
Since the emphasis of the project is on the workplace and plant safety, the project partners are also involved in developing physical measurement methods and measuring equipment to reliably detect nanoparticles and ensure the safe use of nanoparticulate materials.