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"Radio In Vivo" Highlights Nanomaterials Research

By Eddy Ball
May 2008

Tinkle relaxed after her interview on WCOM in a studio that serves many purposes for the Carrboro-Chapel Hill community radio station.
Tinkle relaxed after her interview on WCOM in a studio that serves many purposes for the Carrboro-Chapel Hill community radio station. (Photo by Robin Mackar)
Hood's "Radio In Vivo" interviews air every Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. on air and on-line. (Photo courtesy of Ernie Hood)

On April 9, NIEHS scientist Sally Tinkle, Ph.D., was the featured guest on "Radio In Vivo," a show aired live each Wednesday on WCOM-FM 103.5, Community Radio of Carrboro, N.C. She responded to questions about the use and safety of nanomaterials during the hour-long interview with host Ernie Hood.

Tinkle is a senior science advisor within the NIEHS Office of the Director. Her experience with nanomaterials and nanotechnology includes developing the NIEHS extramural nanotoxicology portfolio, chairing the NIH Nano Task Force Health Implications Working Group and participating in several national task forces on the subject.

Host Ernie Hood is a free-lance science writer and editor, a regular contributor to the journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP)( Exit NIEHS Website and a writer for the NIEHS Web site. For the past two years, Hood has volunteered his time to interview scientists for WCOM.

According to Tinkle, nanomaterials present scientists with what she described as a "two-edged sword" - the same properties that make nanomaterials so potentially beneficial in drug delivery and product development are also reasons to be cautious about their proliferation in the environment. Nanomaterials, she noted, are characterized by changes in the relation of the electrons to the nucleus of the atom and a greater ratio of surface area to internal volume that mean the same compounds behave differently at nano dimensions than at larger sizes.

According to Tinkle, the materials are still a matter of concern because of the gaps in knowledge about the effects of different sizes, coatings and shapes of the materials. "Scientists don't yet have all the necessary tools for measuring nanomaterials in the environment and the human body," she said. Nanomaterials also raise new questions about what "dose" means and whether size, surface area and shape are as important as weight or volume in gauging the effects of exposure.

Tinkle observed that hype and hysteria have sometimes been part of the discourse about adverse health effects of new materials, including nanomaterials. Although there are still many important questions and potential risks involved, she concluded, "To date, there have been no large adverse effects occurring in the workplace."

"Radio In Vivo" is underwritten by The Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences in RTP, the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, the North Carolina Association for Biomedical Research and the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center in Chapel Hill. A power spike interfered with the recording of the interview with Tinkle, but Hood's conversations with more than 75 other members of the Triangle scientific community are available as podcasts( Exit NIEHS Website, including talks with NIEHS Acting Director Sam Wilson, M.D., NIEHS Staff Scientist Jef French, Ph.D., and former EHP Editor-in-Chief Thomas Goehl, Ph.D.

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