Two NIOSH researchers recently theorized about the possible adverse health effects of nanoparticles in the December 2006 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives. I list the scientists’ "pros" and "cons" and some of the literature upon which the scientists rely below.

Near the end of the article, the authors present a table of hypothetical adverse health effects which might accompany the translocation of nanoparticles throughout the human body after inhalation and/or dermal exposure. While the table is useful for discussion purposes (and the authors make it clear that it is based on current limited toxicology studies and human data), a tremendous amount of research is still needed to determine whether the table approaches reality. 

The authors conclude with the following thoughts:

". . . the benefits of nanotechnology dominate our thinking, the potential for undesirable human health outcomes should not be overlooked . . . Development of safety guidelines by government for the nanotechnology industries, including manufacturing, monitoring of worker exposure, ambient release of [nanoparticles], and risk examinations, is mandatory to promote nanotechnology for its economic incentives and medicinal applications.  

M. R. Gwinn, et al., “Nanoparticles: health effects–pros and cons,” Environ Health Perspectives, Vol. 114, No. 12 (Dec. 2006).


I. Use of nanoparticles as fluorescent biological in vivo probes in medical imaging and diagnostics.

A. M. Burches, et al., “Semiconductor nanocrystals as fluorescent biological labels,” Science, 281 (5385): 2013-2016 (1998).

B. X. Wu, et al., “Immunofluorescent labeling of cancer marker. Her2 and other cellular targets with. semiconductor quantum dots,” Nature Biotechnology, 21(1):41-46 (2003).

C. Y. Zhang, et al., "Surface modification of superparamagnetic magnetite nanoparticles and their intracellular uptake," Biomaterials 23 (7), 1553-1561 (2002).

D. X. Gao, et al., “In vivo cancer targeting and imaging with semiconductor quantum dots,” Nature Biotechnology, 22(8):969-976 (2004).

II. Use of nanoparticles in targeted encapsulated drug delivery. 

 A. S. M. Moghimi, et al., “Nanomedicine: current status and future prospects,” The FASEB Journal, 19(3):311-331 (2005).

B. T. Allen, et al., “Drug delivery systems: entering the mainstream,” Science, 303:1818-1824 (2004).

C. M. Kumar, et al., “Cationic Poly(lactide-co-glycolide) Nanoparticles as Efficient in vivo Gene Transfection Agents,” Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, 4(8):990-994 (2004).

D. S. Gelperina, et al., “The Potential Advantages of Nanoparticle Drug Delivery Systems in Chemotherapy of Tuberculosis,” Am J Respir Crit Care Med, 172(12):1487–1490 (2005).

III. Use of nanoparticles in anti-cancer treatment to specifically target tumor cells.

A. D. O’Neal, et al., “Photo-thermal tumor ablation in mice using near infrared-absorbing nanoparticles,” Cancer Letters, 209(2): 171–176 (2004).

B. J. M. Perkel, “The Ups and Downs of Nanobiotech,” The Scientist, 18(16):14-18(2004).

C. S. Denardo, et al., “Development of tumor targeting bioprobes,” Clin. Cancer Research, 11(19 pt 2): 7087s-7092s (2005).

D. I. H. El-Sayed, et al., "Selective laser photo-thermal therapy of epithelial carcinoma using anti-EGFR antibody conjugated gold nanoparticles,” Cancer Letters, 239(1):129-135 (2006).

E. T. Andresen, "Enzymatic release of antitumor ether lipids by specific phospholipase A2 activation of liposome-forming prodrugs,” Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, 47(7):1694-703 (2004).

IV. Use of nanoparticles in gene therapy.

A. B Gopalan, et al., “Nanoparticle based systemic gene therapy for lung cancer: molecular mechanisms and strategies to suppress nanoparticle-mediated inflammatory response,” Technology Cancer Research Treatments, 3(6):647-57 (2004).

B. S. Mansouri, et al., “Characterization of folate-chitosan-DNA nanoparticles for gene therapy,” Biomaterials, 27(9):2060-2065 (2006).

C. Z. Li, et al., “Poly-L-lysine-modified silica nanoparticles: a potential oral gene delivery system,” Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, 5(8):119-1203 (2005).

D. C. Dufes, et al., “Synthetic anticancer gene medicine exploits intrinsic antitumor activity of cationic vector to cure established tumors,” Cancer Research, 65(18):8079-8084 (2005).

E. S. Prabha, et al., “Nano-particle-medicated wild-type p53 gene delivery results,” Molecular Pharmacology, 1(3):211-216 (2004).

F. D. Bharali, et al., “Organically modified silica nanoparticles: a nonviral vector for in vivo gene delivery and expression in the brain,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102(32):11539-11544 (2005).


I. Morbidity and Mortality Due to Cardiovascular affects.

Analogy drawn from existing air pollution and ultra-fine particle studies.

II. Pulmonary Morbidity and Mortality.

Analogy drawn from existing air pollution and ultra-fine particle studies. Additionally:

A. C. Lam, et al., “Pulmonary Toxicity of Single-Wall Carbon Nanotubes in Mice 7 and 90 Days After Intratracheal Instillation,” Toxicological Sciences, 77(1):126-134 (2004).

 B. A. Shvedova, et al., “Unusual inflammatory and fibrogenic pulmonary responses to single-walled carbon nanotubes in mice,” American Journal of Physiology – Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology, 289(5):L698-L708 (2005).

C. D. Warheit, et al., “Comparative Pulmonary Toxicity Assessment of Single Wall Carbon Nanotubes in Rats,” Toxicological Sciences, 77(1)117-125 (2004).

III. Translocation and Toxicity to Other Organs.

Analogy drawn from existing ultra-fine particle studies.

IV. Neuronal translocation.

Analogy drawn from existing ultra-fine carbon black study.

V. Dermal Exposure and translocation.

Analogy drawn from existing studies concerning skin penetration of micronized particles.