Grand Challenge: Identify and prioritize the research needed to classify nanomaterials by physical and chemical properties and develop predictive models for their interactions with living systems.
Background: The unique properties and potential mobility of engineered nanoparticles, along with the lack of mobile monitors to detect their presence, pose significant challenges to the development of best practices for nanomaterial handling throughout the lifecycle. Extrapolating from health and safety data available for a larger-scale material may fail to capture the nanoscale analog’s interactions.
As nanoparticles with new properties are discovered and designed with more complex functionality, a scientifically based hierarchy of risk assessment is needed to develop handling protocols that expand in scope as the nanomaterial progresses from research to development to product. Until predictive models are developed, risk assessors will need knowledge of the potential interaction of the nanomaterial with biological organisms and the environment at each stage of the lifecycle. Thus, an understanding of the functional properties that correlate with the biological response is needed.
Principles: In order to achieve the goal of developing a framework for predicting the interactions between engineered naoparticles and biological systems at the molecular level that would have broad credibility, the workshop participants who were invited to participate were chosen to provide broad international and multistakeholder group input to the process. All participants were involved in fields relevant to the workshop topics, including biology, computational modeling, toxicology, materials science, biophysics, and environmental science.
Process: The workshop participants were charged with defining the research needs, or milestones, required to produce predictive models of an engineered nanoparticle's biological effects. Two workshops were convened that brought together about 50 experts in each workshop. These experts were mostly scientists representing diverse stakeholder groups, including academia, industry, governments, and NGOs, and 13 countries.
The goals of the first ICON workshop (Towards Nanomaterial Classes) were to identify preliminary classes of nanomaterials with common properties and to identify for these classes potential “hot spots” in their lifecycle. The results from Workshop 1 served as input to Workshop 2 (Towards Predicting Nano-Biointeractions), which had as its goal to define research strategies toward developing predictive models of engineered nanomaterials’ interactions with biological systems.
Results: The identified research needs and activities in the final report comprise recommendations for progressive research within specific timeframes, largely toward predictive models for nanomaterial risks. Altogether 26 research needs to predict nano-biointeractions were identified. In addition, a second set of five research needs was identified for risk management.