- Focusing efforts where we make most impact
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- Five cobalt salts proposed for restriction
- Overcoming a substitution challenge: antifouling
- A case study from Cameroon: When chemicals escape control
- Mapping plastic additives
- Research on the safety of nanomaterials: beyond Horizon 2020
- Guest column: Protecting consumers against endocrine disruptors must be a top priority for the EU in 2019
- Do it yourself – but safety first
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Article related to: People and perspectives
Research on the safety of nanomaterials: beyond Horizon 2020
The NanoSafety Cluster coordinates the funding of research projects at the European level that address the safety aspects of nanomaterials and the related technologies, such as toxicity, exposure and standardisation. Eva Valsami-Jones, Professor of Environmental Nanoscience at the University of Birmingham, leads the coordination team of the cluster. She tells us about EU-funded research on nanomaterials and the benefits and risks of innovations.
What is the role of the NanoSafety Cluster in EU nanomaterials research?
The NanoSafety Cluster was set up by the European Commission to coordinate and sponsor EU-funded projects on nanomaterials. Since 2009, we have supported the Commission in determining where the largest knowledge gaps exist in nanomaterials safety.
Projects funded by the EU are usually medium or large scale, science-focused, with a budget between EUR 3 million and 10 million, and carried out by 10 to 60 partners.
Many of the projects have generated large hazard datasets that contain important information about how nanomaterials behave in the environment or interact with different animal and plant life. This new information also helps researchers to better understand several different characteristics of nanomaterials, such as their toxicological effects.
The NanoSafety Cluster aims to establish a common ground for scientists in the field to get together, discuss new findings, and share data through various networking events. We have also set up different task forces and working groups to collaborate on specific topics and activities.
|Eva Valsami-Jones. |
"Nanomaterials have captured our imagination with characteristics that
What are the most exciting innovations and biggest concerns in nanotechnology?
There are many amazing innovations associated with nanoscience and nanotechnologies, such as the purification of waste water to make it drinkable and the more effective delivery of medicines for treating cancer. As an environmental scientist, my favourite is how by using ever smaller particles, even for standard applications, we can actually save a lot of our planet’s resources.
Nanomaterials have captured our imagination with characteristics that we have never seen before. Yet they have equally captured our concerns by showing properties and toxicity that we have not yet fully understood.
Although there is a lot of research being carried out in Europe to better understand the behaviour of nanomaterials, so far we have not identified any toxicity that would be more severe than that of better known toxicants. Still, we do observe toxicity that deviates from the standard behaviour of equivalent bulk material such as larger particles. This is quite a concern for us, and something we need to understand better.
The greatest information-based need we currently have is a better ability to perform read-across between datasets. So, for example, if we have good toxicity data on material A and material B, by understanding the correlation between them, we may not need to test every other material that is close to either one of them. This link between different types of materials is yet to be established.
What does the future of nanoresearch look like?
To date, a lot of the work has been carried out on nanoparticles at the higher end of the typical size ranges, so a future area of work will be to increase our understanding of the behaviour of the smallest materials on the nanoscale.
Nanomaterials are increasingly becoming part of the big picture on chemicals. In the near future, I expect there will be a need to study them as a part of a larger family of chemicals, rather than as a distinct entity.
How is the NanoSafety cluster collaborating beyond the EU?
One aspect of the increased internationalisation efforts is to further enable countries outside the EU without the resources to run their own research projects to access European funding through the cluster. Countries with more research capacity, such as the United States and Canada, can join cluster projects, but they need to secure their own funding.
Also, although there is no formal agreement with the OECD, the organisation is an important vehicle for making use of NanoSafety Cluster project data and expertise internationally.
It is important to find mechanisms for linking project knowledge and data to the work of the OECD – contributing to their test guidelines being one possible way. The link would also help ensure that the data generated is coherent and internationally comparable for regulatory purposes.
An example of current work addressing this matter is the Malta Initiative, which aims to increase EU presence and contributions to adapting and developing new nano-specific OECD test guidelines and guidance documents.
Is there enough research being done to ensure the safety of EU citizens?
As an academic, you would expect me to say that there can never be enough research. This is true to some extent, but in terms of determining the safety of nanomaterials, there has been a lot of concerted effort in the EU, and a lot of good science has been carried out. As a consumer, I can say that I feel safe when buying products on the EU market, and that I trust that the manufactured nanomaterials I come into contact with in my daily life are safe.
Working with the European Union Observatory for Nanomaterials
The European Union Observatory for Nanomaterials (EUON) was launched in 2017 and provides information about existing nanomaterials on the EU market. For this, it also makes use of the data generated by the NanoSafety cluster projects.
For example, the eNanoMapper featured on the EUON provides a computational infrastructure for the management of toxicological data on nanomaterials. It is one of the largest data sources currently available on the toxicological properties of nanomaterials, and includes data from the NanoREG project coordinated by the NanoSafety cluster.
Did you know?
Since 1984, EU research and technological development projects have been defined and implemented through a series of multi-annual framework programmes. In 2018, the European Commission published its proposal for Horizon Europe, a EUR 100 billion research and innovation programme that will succeed Horizon 2020.
The framework programmes are the main financial tools used by the EU to support research and development that covers almost all scientific disciplines, including nanotechnology. The European Commission develops proposals for the programmes, which then move to the Council and the European Parliament for adoption.
Interview by Adam Elwan
Published on: 21 February 2019
Top image: © ECHA
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Committee for Risk Assessment:
4-7 and 12-13 June
9-13 and 16-20 September (tentative)
Committee for Socio-Economic
9-13 and 16-20 September
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24-28 June (tentative)
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