Nanoparticles In Rodents

Image Credit: Edward A. Sykes & Qin Dai

Image Credit: Edward A. Sykes & Qin Dai

When many people find stories reporting scientific research in animals, they typically assume that the content will somehow involve some aspect of genetic modification. Typically this is true, and generally these modifications are accompanied by heated ethical debates. Canadian researchers, however, have been looking into a completely different and promising technology that I thought I’d share with you today.

By using light-sensitive nanoparticles, scientists were able to cause rodents to glow when exposed to ultraviolet radiation (citation below). Quantum dots were injected into the rodents and accumulated throughout their bodies.The particles could then be seen though the skin when the mice are exposed to UV light using a technique called inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy. This type of research is useful for a number of reasons.

Most notably, it allows scientists to see what might happen when living organisms ingest nanoparticles. They’re found in a variety of different products now, and naturally will be found in countless more in the near future. As they break down, they can ultimately become toxic and therefore extremely dangerous as a result.

Mice injected with gold nanoparticles. Image Credit: Nature

Mice injected with gold nanoparticles. Image Credit: Nature

Because they diffuse at such a high rate, they can lead to a very fast buildup of chemicals in vital organs. This means that individuals who are exposed to them, perhaps on a daily basis, could end up dealing with toxicity problems. By looking into the issue now, scientists should be able to prevent these issues from having serious consequences before they ever even become widespread health concerns. Naturally this sort of thing is extremely important when it comes to getting people to actually accept the introduction of nanoparticles into their own bodies.

There might be some important spin-offs from this kind of research as well. One of the researchers in charge of the project commented that it could better help scientists understand the way that nanoparticles behave when in the body. In the future these could be used as tracers that are far safer than existing ones.

Eventually, research will demonstrate how to purge nanoparticles from a system as well. Once this is clearly understood, it will be possible to use them for a variety of medical applications. Until it’s known how to remove them, however, medical personnel will likely continue to be wary of using them in patients. Generally, any substance that will never leave the body isn’t something that should be placed within it in the first place until all risks are completely understood (with the exception of medical implants).

Image Credit: Edward A. Sykes & Qin Dai

Image Credit: Edward A. Sykes & Qin Dai

Numerous other spin-offs could also come about as a result of this kind of technology. Injected nanorobotics might at some point work as a sort of artificial immunity system in humans. While this is technically outside of the original intent of the research, it is in no way less realistic than the problems that the actual research was looking at solving. By applying existing materials in new ways, medical professionals could be looking at new mechanized cures too small for the human eye to see.

Reference:

Sykes, E., Dai, Q., Tsoi, K., Hwang, D., & Chan, W. (2014). Nanoparticle exposure in animals can be visualized in the skin and analysed via skin biopsy Nature Communications, 5 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4796

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