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Linking Chemical Characterisation of NPs With Their Human Health Impacts: Emerging Research Needs in a Post-COVID World

Dr. Craig Poland (Medicine)

Engineered nanomaterials (ENM) are a class of manufactured particulates that are playing an increasing role in technological developments with societal benefit. However, with increased use comes increased potential for exposure and there is a need to understand possible health ramifications of such exposure to prevent possible harm. Whilst ENM are relatively new, particulates ranging from the micron to nanometre scale are endemic in the environment and as such, our exposure to them via a variety of routes from inhalation to ingestion occurs throughout our lives, beginning before birth. Whilst exposure to most particles occurs without incident, some exposures such as air pollution affect all biological systems and are associated with millions of excess deaths each year and considerable disease burden on health services worldwide. Understanding the potential health effects of particulates, irrespective of if they are naturally occurring (e.g., volcanic dust), anthropogenic in nature (e.g., fossil fuel emissions) or emerging risks (e.g., nanotechnology) requires knowledge of the particle properties and the exposure scenario as well as the toxicological response. The physicochemical properties of a particulate such as composition, size, surface area, reactivity, shape and solubility all dictate its interaction with a biological system and the molecular initiation of adverse outcomes, and as such, influence the hazard status of a particle. The exposure scenario including route of exposure, concentration, duration as well as particle properties such shape, size, density profoundly influence dose, distribution and target tissues within the body. As such, to fully understand the drivers of (nano)particle mediated toxicity and disease, we must first understand the properties of the particles including the characteristics and processes that result in exposure. This undertaking by its very nature, is multi-disciplinary and places particle toxicology at the intersect between biomedical sciences, chemistry, exposure science and physics. Furthermore, given the complex and multifaceted nature of particle interactions and resultant disease pathways, there is an increasing need for data science driven approaches to exploring potential associations, drivers of toxicity and interventional approaches. It is both the use of such a multi-disciplinary route to understand and predict possible ENM risks as well as the use of a collaborative approach to design ENM to explore and identify physicochemical drivers of particle toxicity that is explored in this talk.