|NIEHS Awards Recovery Act Funds to Focus More Research on Health and Safety of Nanomaterials
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the
National Institutes of Health, is increasing its investment in understanding
the potential health, safety and environmental issues related to tiny
particles that are used in many everyday products such as sunscreens,
cosmetics and electronics. The NIEHS will award about $13 million
over a two-year period, through the American Recovery and Reinvestment
Act, to bolster the NIEH's ongoing research portfolio in the area
of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs).
Engineered nanomaterials are very tiny materials about 100,000 times smaller
than a single strand of hair. They represent a significant breakthrough
in material design and development for industry and consumer products,
including stain-resistant clothing, pesticides, tires, and electronics,
as well as in medicine for purposes of diagnosis, imaging and drug
"We currently know very little about nanoscale materials' effect on human health
and the environment," said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS and the
National Toxicology Program (NTP), an interagency program for the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services. "Nanomaterials come in so many shapes and sizes,
with each one having different chemical properties and physical and surface characteristics.
They are tricky materials to get a handle on. The same properties that make nanomaterials
so potentially beneficial in drug delivery and product development are some of
the same reasons we need to be cautious about their presence in the environment."
The NIEHS has awarded 13 new two-year grants through the Recovery Act to develop
better methods to assess exposure and health effects associated with nanomaterials.
Ten of the grants were awarded through the NIH Grand Opportunities program announced
in March 2009 http://www.niehs.nih.gov/recovery/nanomaterial-go.cfm, and three
were funded from the NIH Challenge Grants program. All 13 are aimed at developing
reliable tools and approaches to determine the impact on biological systems and
health outcomes of engineered materials.
The new awards focus on ensuring that we have reliable and reproducible methods
and models to assess exposure, exposure metrics, and biological response to nanomaterials.
This research is also essential for the harmonization of research results and
forming a scientifically sound basis for hazard assessment, as well as the safe
design and development of ENMs.
"There are inconsistencies in the biological effects of ENMs reported in the
scientific literature, and a major reason for this is lack of detailed characterization
of the physical and chemical properties of the ENMs used in these studies," said
Sri Nadadur, Ph.D., program administrator at the NIEHS. "One of our goals is
to identify three or four reliable and reproducible test methods using the same
ENMs by investigators across different labs."
To accomplish this, the NIEHS brought 36 investigators together on Oct. 20, 2009
in North Carolina, where the NIEHS is headquartered, to identify ENMs, assays
and test systems to be utilized in these investigations in a more coordinated
and integrated effort.
The NIEHS is establishing an integrated program that will narrow its focus to
identify the best methods to evaluate the health effects of nanomaterials through
use of cell cultures and animal systems. After the initial meeting, grantees
will meet face-to-face twice a year to share information, evaluate progress and
determine next steps.
"Recovery Act funds have allowed us to expand our efforts in this important area," said
Sally Tinkle, Ph.D., senior science sdvisor at the NIEHS. "We want to be sure
that we come away with some better tools to assess the health and safety of nanomaterials." This
NIEHS effort focused on nanomaterials supports the goals identified by the National
Nanotechnology Initiative Strategy for Nanotechnology-related Environmental,
Health, and Safety Research.
In addition to Recovery Act funding, the NIEHS supports grantees across the country
working on issues related to nanotechnology. The NIEHS extramural activities
are focused on three main areas:
- The application of nanotechnologies in environmental health research
through use of nanomaterials to improve measurements of exposure to other environmental
factors, enabling research into the biological effects of exposures and improving
therapeutic strategies to reverse the harmful effects of environmental exposures.
- Understanding the risks associated with accidental or intentional exposure
- Through the Superfund Research Program which authorizes NIH to fund
university-based research to conduct the science needed for human health risk
assessment and decision-making for remediation of hazardous waste sites, researchers
across the country are looking at both the application of nanomaterials for environmental
monitoring and remediation, and the health implications associated with their
On November 4, 2009, the NIEHS announced a new funding opportunity to address
the potential health implications of ENMs. The Request for Applications entitled
Engineered Nanomaterials: Linking Physical and Chemical Properties to Biology
can be found at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/rfa-files/RFA-ES-09-011.html.
The NIEHS also administers the National Toxicology Program, which is researching
the potential human health hazards associated with the manufacture and use of
The 10 Recovery Act NIH Grand Opportunities grants focusing on engineered nanomaterial
safety have been awarded to:
- James Christopher Bonner, North Carolina State University, Raleigh
- Edward David Crandall, University of Southern California, Los Angeles
- Alison Cory Pearson Elder and Gunter Oberdorster, University of Rochester,
- Andrij Holian, University of Montana, Missoula
- Andre Elias Nel, University of California, Los Angeles
- Galya Orr, Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories, Richland, Wash.
- Christopher D. Vulpe, University of California, Berkeley
- Paul K. Westerhoff, Arizona State University, Tempe
- Frank A. Witzmann and Somenath Mitra, Indiana University, Indianapolis
- Robert M. Worden, Michigan State University, East Lansing
The three Recovery Act Nanotechnology NIH Challenge Grants have been awarded
- Kent E. Pinkerton, University of California, Davis
- Timothy R. Nurkiewicz, West Virginia University, Morgantown
- Wynne K. Schiffer, Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, Manhasset, N.Y.
The NIEHS also used Recovery Act funds to support efforts under its Superfund
Research Program to determine ways to apply nanotechnology to better detect and
evaluate effects on human health, and clean up Superfund chemicals in the environment.
The Superfund Worker Education Training Program also provided Recovery Act funding
targeting health and safety training.
The NIEHS supports research to understand the effects of the environment on human
health and is part of NIH. For more information on environmental health topics,
visit our Web site at http://www.niehs.nih.gov.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's
Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and
Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting
and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research,
and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both
common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and
its programs, visit www.nih.gov.
More information about the NIH Recovery Act grant funding opportunities can be
found at http://grants.nih.gov/recovery/. To track the progress of HHS activities
funded through the Recovery Act, visit www.hhs.gov/recovery. To track all federal
funds provided through the Recovery Act, visit www.recovery.gov.