Nano particles

Plastic nanoparticles can move from mom to baby through placenta.

Mar 29, 2010
Wick, P, A Malek, P Manser, D Meili, X Maeder-Althaus, L Diener, P Diener, A Zisch, H Krug and U von Mandach. 2010. Barrier capacity of human placenta for nanosized materials. Environmental Health Perspectives 118(3): 432-436.
Synopsis by Thea Edwards

Research shows for the first time that plastic nanoparticles can cross the human placenta, possibly exposing the developing fetus to the tiny materials that are increasingly used in medicines, vaccines and personal care products.
Plastic nanoparticles can quickly traverse the human placenta from the mother's side to the developing fetus' side, according to new laboratory research that confirms prior findings from animal studies.

The results confirm that smaller sizes of the manufactured materials are able to cross the placenta at a time toward the end of pregnancy when the membrane barrier between mom and fetus is thinner. The growing brain and other organs may be exposed to the particles that have unknown health effects. Researchers suggest more research on the toxic effects of nanoparticles is needed to understand if the fetus is at risk.

Nanomaterials are tiny particles, crafted from atoms of metals, plastics and a variety of other materials. They are increasingly used in engineering applications, as well as medicine and personal care products where their small size helps move drugs and ingredients through the body. At less than 100 nanometers – that's smaller than the diameter of a hair – they behave differently – are more potent and can penetrate deeper – than their larger counterparts.

While not much is known about their toxicity, animal and laboratory studies find the airborne materials can pass into the blood from the lungs and into the brain from the nose. So far, lab studies have found the very small materials can affect brain cells, DNA and lung function. Animal studies point to reproductive changes, embryo death and brain and nerve damage.

The placenta connects a mother to her baby during pregnancy. It acts as both a pipeline – carrying nutrients and waste products from one to the other – and a protective barrier – preventing certain substances from passing through to the fetus. A special cell border, or membrane, that changes during pregnancy separates the mother's side from the fetal side.

The study's authors collected placentas from consenting women immediately after their full-term babies were born. The maternal side of each placenta was injected with a single dose of a solution containing polystyrene nanoparticles. Polystyrene is a widely used plastic that is used to make products like packing peanuts, disposable coffee cups, #6 plastic food packaging and hard plastic items like disposable cutlery and CD cases.

The researchers used polystyrene nanoparticles that were fluorescent so that their migration could be tracked. They tested four different sizes with diameters of 50, 80, 240 or 500 nanometers and used at least four placentas for each nanoparticle size.

The smaller nanoparticles (50, 80, and 240 nm) appeared on the fetal side  of the placenta within 15 minutes after injection, while the larger particles (500 nm) stayed on the maternal side for the six-hour duration of the study.

A one-time exposure, like that evaluated in this study, would mimic a maternal injection rather than an environmental exposure. However, the study clearly illustrates that some nanoparticles are able to pass through the placental membrane from mother to fetus.


29 March Probing nanotoxicity, With so many opportunities for nanomaterials to get into humans, either deliberately as medicines or unintentionally as environmental contaminants, scientists have many questions about their toxicity. Chemical & Engineering News.

27 March Amid nanotech's dazzling promise, health risks grow. Nanotechnology has long been hyped for its potential to cure diseases, ease energy problems, supercharge our computers and more. But increasing evidence shows that the engineered particles could pose a giant risk to the environment and human life. AOL News.

27 March Big issues with small science: Nanotechnology. Friends of the Earth is targeting cosmetic giant L'Oreal for incorporating nanoparticles in its posh potions and lotions. The environmental group contends that nano-products, including cosmetics and sunscreens, could present serious new health and environmental risks. Sydney Australian, Australia.

22 March Gold dust extends Raman's reach. “Smart dust” consists of 55-nm gold nanoparticles encased in a shell of silica or alumina. Researchers call their new method shell-isolated nanoparticle-enhanced Raman spectroscopy, or SHINERS. Chemical & Engineering News.

12 March Fears over toxic sunscreen. Nanoparticles used in some sunscreens to make them transparent might also be toxic, according to Australian research that adds to uncertainty about the safety of some sunscreens. Melbourne Age, Australia.

16 February The car in front will be carbon fibre. A nano-scale material developed in Britain may one day yield wafer-thin cellphones and light-weight, long-range electric cars powered by the roof, boot and doors, according to researchers. Agence France-Presse.

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9 January Report calls for research on nanoparticles in food. A global scarcity of scientific research on using nanotechnology in foods means food safety authorities are unable to properly regulate products that may be beneficial or harmful, a British science panel said on Friday. Reuters Health.

8 January Peers criticise food industry secrecy on nanotechnology. The Lords science and technology committee is urging the government and research councils to carry out more checks into the use of nanomaterials in food, and in particular, the dangers for the human body. London Guardian, United Kingdom.

8 January Chief scientist says GM and nanotechnology should be part of modern agriculture. Genetically modified crops and nanotechnology will have to be used in British agriculture to avoid food shortages, the Government's chief scientist has warned. London Daily Telegraph, United Kingdom.

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3 January Nanosensor speeds up cancer detection. Detecting the biological signs of cancer in blood samples could be quicker and more sensitive thanks to new nanotechnology developed by U.S. scientists. Epoch Times.

15 December Nanomaterial used for cancer tests. Scientists have used nanosensors for the quick detection of cancers through blood tests, with nanomaterial also enabling the release of medicine at targeted organs, said studies released on Sunday. Agence France-Presse.

14 December Better nanotubes may be on the way. In the world of nanotechnology, few things get as much billing as nanotubes. Experts say they could someday be used in everything from superstrong jet engines to cancer cures. Now researchers think they've found a way to make a nanotube that could provide even more impressive applications. Science.

8 December Batteries made from nanotubes...and paper. Scientists have made batteries and supercapacitors with little more than ordinary office paper and some carbon and silver nanomaterials, bringing us closer to lightweight printable batteries that may one day be molded into computers, cell phones or solar panels.. Science News.

4 December Safety first. Amid the exciting prospects for human health, a key question is whether the nano approach is safe, not just for medical applications but across the board in consumer products. So how is science addressing that question? Dublin Irish Times, Ireland.

2 December Radiator roads too hot for ice to handle. Blizzard-bound motorists won't have to wait for a salting truck or snow plough to clear the way if a "self-heating" road takes off. Fly ash and nanotechnology are both being investigated as options. New Scientist.

27 November Welcome to the high-carbon future. Carbon is a dirty word. We burn too much of it, producing billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide that threatens to wreck our planet's climate for generations to come. Now our long-time enemy carbon could be on the brink of becoming our high-tech best friend by way of nanotechnology. New Scientist.

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24 November 'Big cosmetics' hiding use of nanoparticles in make-up. A report by Friends of the Earth claims that Australian women are being used as guinea pigs by big cosmetic companies after independent testing showed that several high-end concealer and foundation brands contained nanoparticles. Melbourne Age, Australia.

19 November Silica nanoparticles flow in (and out of) waste. New research highlights some of the issues swirling around nanomaterials in wastewater, but no answers are forthcoming. Environmental Science & Technology.

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9 November Labor seeks feedback on nanotechnology. The federal government is calling for feedback on its plan to tighten regulations over the use of nanotechnology in industrial chemicals. Australian Associated Press.

6 November More evidence nanoparticles damage DNA. Researchers in the United Kingdom have found some nanoparticles - which can be found in common household items - can damage DNA without even penetrating the cells. Sydney ABC News, Australia.

6 November Nanoparticles can damage DNA at a distance: study. Nanoparticles can damage the DNA of cells from a distance—even without crossing the cellular barriers that protect certain parts of the body, British researchers said on Thursday. Reuters.

6 November Anti-odor silver exits textiles in the wash. Silver ions are such effective antimicrobial agents that there are now hundreds of consumer products that contain small amounts of the metal, in the form of nanoparticles that release ions slowly over time. New York Times.

2 November Nanotechnology: A risky frontier? Nanotechnology already has found hundreds of high-tech uses. But do its tiny particles pose big health risks? That uncertainty, and companies' reluctance to embrace the field, cloud its future. Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota.

25 October New industry promises jobs and greener cars. Tiny nano-crystals derived from forest-industry wood waste are added to car paint. They make the coating more resistant to scratches, chips and sunlight. Changing their alignment alters their colour, without toxic dyes or pigments. Toronto Star, Ontario.