Biological risk potential of nanoparticles
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Studies reveal Biological risk potential of Nanoparticles

The nanoparticles are smaller than five nanometres, i.e., a nanometre being one-millionth of a millimeter. These correspond approximately to the sizes of macromolecules. Such tiny particles are very easily absorbed in our body cells. There are two aspects to this feature of Nanoparticles. Firstly, this feature makes nanoparticles good vehicles for transporting a broad range of compounds, medicines or substances attached to them into the normal diseased cells in a precisely targeted manner.

On the other hand, nanoparticles can also pose various health risks; New Studies reveal Biological risk potential of Nanoparticles, for example in connection with particulate matter. One of the ways by which particulate matter is created is in combustion processes, and part of matter can be classified as nanoparticles. These are extremely small particles that can overcome the blood air barrier and then penetrate the body. The bronchial mucosa in the lungs does not filter out these particles. Instead, bronchial mucosa makes their way into the pulmonary alveoli and then, from there into the bloodstream.

Along with work teams from the Chemistry department, the HHU researchers from the Institute of Experimental Condensed Matter Physics working under Prof. Dr. Thomas Heinzel

and also from the Department of Haematology, Oncology, and Clinical Immunology working under Prof. Dr. Rainer Haas have now studied in their research study on Biological risk potential of Nanoparticles, what happens when our body cells absorb such nanoparticles. The scientists used nanoparticles made from graphene which is a special form of carbon that comprises 2D layers of hexagonal carbon rings. The team added these to special hematopoietic stem cells referred to as CD34+ stem cells. These CD34+ stem cells are particularly sensitive to the damaging environmental influences on account of their ability to divide throughout their lifespan. The assumption by the team is that these cells would be damaged more by nanoparticles — if at all — than the more robust other cell types.

The interdisciplinary team of scientists based in Düsseldorf was able to demonstrate that these carbon nanoparticles get into the cells, where these are encapsulated in special organelles called lysosomes. Lysosomes serve as a type of waste removal unit for the body where foreign bodies accumulate and are normally broken down into fragments with the help of certain enzymes. However, the scientists did not observe any such process over the duration of the experiments, which lasted for several days.

When comparing the active genes or say gene expression of stem cells with and without the addition of nanoparticles, the scientists found that only one of a total of 20,800 recorded expressions had changed; and the minor effects were determined in a further 1,171 gene expressions.

Prof. Heinzel, who was speaking regarding the findings of the study on Biological risk potential of Nanoparticles, mentioned that the encapsulation of the nanoparticles in the lysosomes ensures that these particles are stored securely at least for a few days i.e, at least for the duration of their experiments — and cannot damage the cell. This helps the cell to remain viable without any major change in gene expressions. This insight is important if nanoparticles are to be used to deliver medicines into the cells. The experimental framework used here does not allow for any long term statements to be made regarding any increased probability of cell mutation resulting in cancer.

The research study was carried out as a close collaboration between HHU’s Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences and the Faculty of Medicine and University Hospital Düsseldorf. Düsseldorf School of Oncology (headed up by Prof. Dr. Sebastian Wesselborg) funded the doctoral scholarship of first author Stefan Fasbender. Prof. Haas said that the proximity of the Hospital and the University and their close links in terms of content provides HHU with a particularly fruitful environment for translational research, where insights and expertise from basic research are combined with aspects relevant to treatment.


Ria Roy completed her Post Grad degree at the Visvesvaraya Technological University. She has a great grounding in the skills, including technical, analytical and research skills. She is a motivated life science professional with experience of working in famous research institutes