Industrial nano is toxic; drug-delivery nano, not so much

Toxicity of nanoparticles has been a concern among critics of nanotech development for about a decade now. However, in discussing these concerns, many critics fail to distinguish between nanoparticles that are released into the air as a byproduct of an industrial process and nanoparticles that are specifically engineered for a purpose--like drug delivery.

Writing in the journal Nanomedicine, a group of South African researchers set out to see if there are differences in toxicity between industrial and engineered nanoparticles. They compared nanosized industrial byproducts such as zinc oxide, ferrous oxide and fumed silica with polylactide-co-glycolide (PLGA) nanoparticles in vitro and in vivo.

They found that "the toxic effects observed with various industrial nanoparticles will not be observed with particles made of synthetic polymers such as PLGA when applied in the field of nanomedicine. Furthermore, the biodistribution of the particles warrants surface modification of the particles to avoid higher particle localization in the liver."

Translation: Nanoparticles let loose into the air are bad for your health. The nanoparticles that scientists are engineering and modifying to perform functions like delivering life-saving therapeutics to parts of the body that need it--don't have the same harmful complications.

- read the abstract