Researchers predict nanoparticle behaviour

A method for predicting the ways in which nanoparticles will interact with biological systems, including the human body, has been developed by researchers at North Carolina State University.

Their work could have implications for improved human and environmental safety in the handling of nanomaterials, as well as applications for drug delivery.

’We wanted to find a good, biologically relevant way to determine how nanomaterials react with cells,’ said Dr Jim Riviere, director of the university’s Center for Chemical Toxicology Research and Pharmacokinetics. ’When a nanomaterial enters the human body, it immediately binds to various proteins and amino acids. The molecules a particle binds with will determine where it will go.’

This binding process also affects the particle’s behaviour inside the body. The amino acids and proteins that coat a nanoparticle change its shape and surface properties, potentially enhancing or reducing characteristics such as toxicity or, in medical applications, the particle’s ability to deliver drugs to targeted cells.

To create the screening tool, the team used a series of chemicals to probe the surfaces of various nanoparticles. A nanoparticle’s size and surface characteristics determine the kinds of materials with which it will bond. Once the size and surface characteristics are known, the researchers can then create ’fingerprints’ that identify the ways that a particular particle will interact with biological molecules. These fingerprints allow the researchers to predict how that nanoparticle might behave once inside the body.

’This information will allow us to predict where a particular nanomaterial will end up in the human body, and whether or not it will be taken up by certain cells,’ Riviere said. ’That in turn will give us a better idea of which nanoparticles may be useful for drug delivery and which ones may be hazardous to humans or the environment.’