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University of Iowa News Release


April 15, 2008

UI researchers awarded $1.2 million for nanotoxicity study

University of Iowa researchers have been awarded a $1.2 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to investigate the toxicity of inhaled nanomaterials.

Nanomaterials are tiny structures that have at least one dimension ranging in size between one and 100 nanometers, with a nanometer defined as one billionth of a meter. Because manufactured nanomaterials are found in cosmetics, lotions and coatings and are used in environmental remediation, they should be monitored, according to Vicki Grassian, director of the Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Institute at the UI and professor of chemistry in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

"There is the potential for human exposure, making it necessary to study the health implications of these materials," said Grassian, who also serves as professor of chemical and biochemical engineering in the College of Engineering. "The studies at the University of Iowa will help answer questions as to the potential impact of manufactured nanomaterials on human health, as there is clearly a lack of information in this regard."

Grassian is the principal investigator for the highly collaborative and interdisciplinary study. Peter Thorne, professor, and Patrick O'Shaughnessy, associate professor, both in the College of Public Health Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, will serve as co-principal investigators.  Thorne, a toxicologist, is also the director of the Environmental Health Sciences Research Center, a National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Center of Excellence.

The primary objective of the research is to fully integrate studies of the physical and chemical properties of commercially manufactured nanoparticles with inhalation toxicological studies of these same nanoparticles to determine those properties that most significantly affect nanoparticle toxicity.

"A goal of these studies is to establish a relationship between nanoparticle properties and health outcomes," said Grassian. "In this way, these studies will focus on determining the properties that make some nanoparticles more toxic than others."

Her previous work has included designing and implementing new laboratory experiments to better understand the link between the chemistry of mineral dust, or soil particles, in the atmosphere and other global processes, including climate and biogeochemical cycles as well as human health. Large amounts of mineral dust, arising from dust storms in desert regions, combined with the long-range global transport of these particles, can influence air quality, visibility, terrestrial and ocean life worldwide.

The Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Institute at the UI was established in 2006 to focus on issues related to applications and implications of nanoscience and nanotechnology in environmental processes and human health, as well as the fundamental properties of nanomaterials. The institute includes a core group of faculty and staff from the colleges of Engineering, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Pharmacy, Medicine, Dentistry and Public Health involved in nanoscience and nanotechnology. The institute, an interdisciplinary center funded by the Office of the Vice President for Research, College of Engineering and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, provides a venue where researchers from all disciplines of science and engineering can gather to share ideas and discuss their views and prospects of nanoscience, nanoengineering, nanomedicine and nanotechnology.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009,