Nano safety and sustainability

From the safety of nanoparticles to their therapeutic application
Human and environmental exposure to nanomaterials is inevitable, and as the use of these nano-enabled products become more widespread, so too will concerns around their safety and impact on human and environmental health.

To provide fundamental mechanistic insights into the effects of nanoparticles on living organisms, we developed a holistic research approach, using correlative nano-bio-spectroscopy (nano-correscopy) to test the interactions of nanoparticles with individual proteins, human cells, 3D-printed tissue-like models, bacteria (microbiome) and tissues using state-of-art characterisation tools (resolution ~10 nm). This new knowledge on nanoparticle interactions in a biological environment is vital in establishing the evidence and mechanisms behind cytotoxicity. Detailed data on nanoparticle safety addresses an unmet regulatory need and it is critically needed, both to protect health and to protect the sustainability and benefits of nanomaterials.

Nanoparticles are ubiquitous in foods, baby formulas, medicines and the environment. However, there are continued concerns about their safety. Paracelsus stated that “poison is in everything, and nothing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy”. This is especially true for nanoparticles because the possible harms posed by them are poorly understood due to a lack of detailed data and their only recent emergence.

The unresolved problem of cumulative toxicity and potential negative synergies of nanoparticles with drugs represents a major unmet clinical and societal need. The recent discoveries by our research team on the toxicity of nanoparticles in the liver, which we found were induced by the denaturation of proteins that adsorb to the nanoparticle surface (protein corona), have profound implications for safety testing and regulation of nanoparticles.

(a) A significant accumulation of nanoparticles (arrows) in rat hepatoma cells. (b)  Undesired nanoparticles escape (arrows) to cytoplasm from endocytic vesicles in 3D liver model.

Our work specifically interrogates the cumulative effects of nanoparticles (eg. food grade nanoparticles) on cells and bacteria. We propose an innovative approach to test the interactions of nanoparticles with a resolution of ~10 nm to provide fundamental mechanistic insights. Harnessing this knowledge allows us to develop novel safe-by-design chemotherapeutics delivery systems and nontoxic antimicrobial nanoparticles to combat multidrug resistance.

Through our research, we expect to:

  • demonstrate for the first time the potential synergistic toxicity of nanoparticles (i.e. food grade nanoparticles) and a common drug
  • unequivocally determine that cellular uptake and cytotoxicity of nanoparticles depends on the protein corona and cell type
  • develop a new multifaceted and multidimensional approach to measure, quantify and establish toxicity of nanoparticles using nanocharacterisation with 10 nm resolution.

This research program is significant because progress in the development of nanoparticles and the steep increase in their applications does not match the progress in the evaluation of the possible environmental health and safety impacts across their lifecycle. Therefore, by providing fundamental mechanistic insights into nanotoxicity and establishing novel protocols for nanotoxicity testing, we can also support regulatory agencies in protecting our health.

We are generating methodologies for nanotoxicity testing to guide safer-by-design drug formulations, food products and cosmeceuticals. This could ultimately decrease nano-specific risks of nano-enabled products including food, while also paving the way for a more sustainable nanotechnology industry. 


Wojtek Chrzanowski

Associate Professor
  • +61 2 9351 4391
  • Room N347 Pharmacy A15