Swansea Centre for Nanohealth awarded £1m to study safety of
5 September 2009
Researchers at Swansea University’s Centre for NanoHealth have been
awarded £1 million by the UK Research Councils' Nanoscience through
Engineering to Application cross-council programme, led by the
Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC), to analyse
the levels at which nanoparticles can be deemed safe within cells.
The funding, awarded as part of a £1.4 million research grant to
Swansea University and collaborators at the Institute of Materials
Research at the University of Leeds (EPSRC), will enable Swansea
University to develop techniques to accurately measure the nanoparticle
dose delivered to biological cells, track the dose dilution as cells
reproduce and provide vital information for researchers studying any
potential toxic responses.
The four-year project will also ensure closer collaboration between
researchers at Swansea University’s School of Engineering and School of
Medicine, both of which have undertaken significant research into
nanotechnology, nanometrology and nanotoxicology over the last 15 years.
Professor Huw Summers, lead researcher and Chair in Nanotechnology
for Health at Swansea University said: “Current practice in the
assessment of toxic dose uses bulk solution measures such as milliliters
per gram to determine correct dosages rather than the fundamental
measure of particle number. As the size of nanoparticles can vary
significantly, some being as small as a protein molecule, determining
optimal dosages for use in healthcare and beauty products such as
sunscreens or cell-based diagnostics will be crucial.
“Our research which uses light-emitting nanoparticles as optical
markers within living cells that give an individual signal relating to
cell generation will also provide vital information for our colleagues
in nanotoxicology about how the dose evolves as cells divide and
nanoparticles are passed onto future cell generations.”
In recent years the application of nanotechnology to medicine has
sparked the imagination of life scientists, engineers, clinicians and
industry around the world.
These nanoscale technologies, for example, will enable researchers
and scientists to apply engineering methodologies to successfully build
and repair tissues such as cartilage and skin using advanced cell
culture techniques, act as an early warning system for cancer or
diabetes and make products like sunscreen or antiperspirants more
Professor Summers explains: “We’ve been using nanoparticles for
tracking lineage, proliferation and inheritance in populations of
biological cells for a number of years. Using fluorescent nanocrystals
known as quantum dots, we now have established protocols for introducing
nanoparticles into cells and quantifying their interactions within the
biological environment through optics-based experiments and detailed
“This enables us to not only predict and control the way cells and
structures behave, but test these before they are introduced,
reintroduced or implanted in the body to give better results in future
The project research team will comprise 11 researchers, six academic
investigators, three postdoctoral researchers and two PhD students.
In addition to optical tracking of nanoparticles in cells,
measurement and computer simulation of the nanoparticle dose evolution,
biological assessment of particle uptake and toxicology assays on skin,
lung and immune system cells; Swansea University will also be working
with the Institute of Materials Research at the University of Leeds
which will be providing high resolution electron microscopy to image
nanoparticles in cells and provide chemical analysis.
The project is closely linked to the Centre for NanoHealth initiative
at Swansea University which stems from a number of joint research
programmes between the School of Engineering and the School of Medicine
and is expected to position Swansea University as the front-runner in
nanotoxicology research in the UK.
The Centre for NanoHealth is the first state-of-the-art NanoHealth
facility of its kind in Europe, bringing together the expertise of
clinicians, life scientists, engineers and industry to develop
cutting-edge technologies and devices for the benefit of patients
The Centre for NanoHealth has been made possible after securing more
than £10 million from the European Regional Development Fund through the
Welsh Assembly Government.
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