Science in Society Archive

Nanotoxicity: A New Discipline

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Nanoparticles – billionths of metre in dimensions - produced by nanotechnology have unusual properties not found in the bulk material, which can be exploited in numerous applications such as biosensing, electronics, photovoltaics, diagnostics and drug delivery. However, research within the past few years has turned up a range of potential health hazards, which has given birth to the new discipline of nanotoxicity.

In August 2005, the International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON) and Rice University’s Center for Biological and environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) launched an online database of scientific findings related to the risks as well as benefits of nanotechnology [7] ( Searches using common key words such as “quantum dots” and “nanospheres” gave zero returns in September 2005, which shows it is far from adequate and hence could well be misleading.

Article first published 10/10/05


  1. Lam CW, James JLt, McCluskey R and Hunter RL. ToxSci Advance Access published 26, 2003. Pulmonary toxicity of single-wall carbon nanotubes in mice 7 and 90 days after intratracheal instillation. Chemical and Engineering News, December 16, 2002, vol. 80 (50), 46-47.
  2. Ho MW. Nanotubes highly toxic. Science in Society 2004, 21, 36-37.
  3. “Nano hazards: exposure to minute particles harms lungs, circulatory system”, Janet Raloff, ScienceNews Online, 19 March 2005,
  4. “What’s the damage? Buckyballs and fish brains.” Dennis Loney, The website of the Amercian Chemical Society,
  5. Oberdorster G, Oberdorster E and Oberdorster J. Nanotoxicology: an emerging discipline evolving from studies of ultrafine particles. Environmental Health Perspectives 2005, 113, 823-39.
  6. “Safety concerns over injectable quantum dots. Justin Mullins. New Scientist 2004, 28 Feb., 10.
  7. “Nano coalition unveils environment, health and safety database” 19 August 2005,,

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