Powers said the health and environmental effects of common metals and materials are well-known. The question for the researchers is whether the effects change when the metals and materials take the form of nanoparticles and whether these nanoparticles become more or less hazardous based on shape and size. "It's complicated," he said. "In many cases, we lack basic knowledge of the properties and the behavior of the particles themselves."
Palazuelos is investigating what happens to living cells when confronted with aluminum nanoparticles. For the type of cells she has tested, the cells can readily absorb the aluminum nanoparticles, and there is a correlation between size, shape and toxicity. That said, Palazuelos stressed that it is far too early to conclude that aluminum nanoparticles are harmful to human health. Epidemiological studies evaluating years of exposure to aluminum in foundry workers and welders have not shown dramatic health effects as long as basic safety and exposure guidelines are followed, she said.
"It is a long way from isolated tissue studies to the extrapolation of these results to human health," she said. "However, a fundamental understanding of the nanoparticle-cell interactions will be very useful in this field."
Copper and some other metals are known to be toxic to fish and other aquatic wildlife. UF toxicologist David Barber is investigating whether nanoparticles made of these metals are more toxic than standard soluble forms of the metals. As part of his research, he has exposed zebra fish, a s
Contact: Kevin Powers
University of Florida