Pia Kinaret is a PhD student at the Institute of Biotechnology, in the research group led by Dario Greco. She is studying alternative approaches for nanomaterial safety assessment, and has recently published an article on this topic. Congratulations Pia!
A suitable alternative for nanomaterial toxicity testing
The world is going nano! Nanoscience is a very rapidly growing field of research. Nanotechnology, nanostructure and nanoparticles are now commonplace terms and have revolutionized various aspects of our daily lives. Nanomaterials are already being used in cosmetics, cleaning products and our food, and have the potential to make supercomputers that will fit in our pockets. One very promising area is the use of nanoparticles as vehicles for drug delivery to targeted tissue sites such as tumor. But, how grave are the consequences when these particles pile up in the environment or inside us?
Technically, nanomaterials are any particles with at least one dimension less than 100 nanometers. The inherent shape and size of the nanomaterials makes them an oddball for our immune system to handle. Similar to asbestos, inhaled nanomaterials can be hazardous; cause severe asthma-type symptoms, granuloma formation, fibrosis and cardiovascular diseases. As the number of engineered nanomaterials is increasing exponentially, understanding the physiological effects of exposure to nanomaterials and developing toxicity standard for nanomaterials is of great importance. Therefore, Pia and colleagues  have studied an efficient and cost-effective method to assess nanomaterial toxicity.
The most common route of human exposure to nanomaterials is through respiration. State-of-the-art method for studying the airway-exposure of nanomaterials is via inhalation method, in which lab mice are exposed to aerosolized nanomaterial. However, this is cumbersome and time-consuming. Alternatively, this could be studied by oropharyngeal aspiration, in which the nanomaterial is introduced to animal airways as a liquid dispersion. Aspiration is much faster and cost-effective method compared to inhalation, however it is not yet clear whether the two methods are comparable.
Pia  studied the responses of lab mice exposed to carbon-based nanomaterials by inhalation and aspiration method at various doses. She found that the immune responses of the mice at low doses of aspiration were comparable to that of inhalation. Also, the responses at molecular level in terms of the gene expression changes and induced biological functions were also very similar. Pia thus concludes that aspiration is a valid alternative to the inhalation method for assessment of nanomaterial toxicity.
- Inhalation and Oropharyngeal Aspiration Exposure to Rod-Like Carbon Nanotubes Induce Similar Airway Inflammation and Biological Responses in Mouse Lungs. Kinaret P, Ilves M, Fortino V, Rydman E, Karisola P, Lähde A, Koivisto J, Jokiniemi J, Wolff H, Savolainen K, Greco D, Alenius H. ACS Nano. 2017 Jan 24;11(1):291-303.