Gnter Oberdrster, Ph.D., 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.
Oberdrster's 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.
"I'm not advocating that we stop using nanotechnology, but I do believe we should continue to look for adverse health effects," says Oberdrster, who also leads the UR division of Respiratory Biology and Toxicology. "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 nano-particles 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."
Backed by $600 million in recent federal funding and the support of President Bush, nanotechnology is a rising industry in the United States. 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 m
Contact: Leslie Orr
University of Rochester Medical Center