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Environmental Factor, August 2012

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NIH-funded Nanomaterial Registry now available online

By Cindy Loose

Christopher Weis, Ph.D.

Weis is the NIEHS Office of the Director lead on nanomaterials. He works closely with NTP lead Nigel Walker, Ph.D., and NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training lead Sri Nadadur, Ph.D., on the Institute’s research initiatives to better understand nanomaterials and health. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Michele Ostraat, Ph.D.

In the RTI press release announcing the availability of the new registry, Ostraat was quoted as saying, “This registry will provide a valuable resource for nanotechnology stakeholders to find and investigate nanomaterials across diverse test methods, protocols, and data sources in this field.” (Photo courtesy of Jimmy Crawford and RTI International)

The complicated burden involved in searching for information about nanomaterials has been lifted. Researchers can now access a wealth of information at the Nanomaterial Registry, launched this summer by RTI International and funded in part by NIEHS. The site is intended primarily for scientists, but is free to anyone.

Nanotechnology is one of the fastest growing technologies, with billions being invested by industry and government in products and processes that are being used today, and that hold even greater promise for tomorrow. Until now, massive amounts of information were scattered in various places, making data hard to access. 

The registry was funded with $2.9 million from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, NIEHS, and the National Cancer Institute. It provides a resource that organizes and evaluates information about a wide variety of nanomaterials. It includes news about government reports and guidelines, and upcoming workshops and other information critical to those working in the field of nanotechnology.

“The registry is a valuable new tool that will save time and money for researchers looking to create new nanomaterials for innovative and practical products,” said Christopher Weis, Ph.D., senior toxicologist at NIEHS. “Perhaps even more important,” he added, “the registry will help researchers understand the physical and chemical nature of these materials, to help determine how they may affect biological tissues and organisms.”

A multifaceted resource

The registry takes advantage of the growing library of available literature on nanotechnology. A team of specialists developed evaluation standards and criteria to ensure that information included from existing databases was reliable.

Nanomaterials can be searched at the web site by size, surface area, shape, and material type, and each of those categories is further subdivided. Material type, for example, is divided into 16 categories, such as metals, polymers, and carbons. Carbons are then divided into buckyballs, nanotubes, graphene, and graphite. The search by shape is divided into three-dimensional shapes, including nanocubes and quantum dots; two-dimensional shapes, such as nanowires; and one-dimensional shapes, such as nanoplates.

Even more refined searches allow researchers to pinpoint only those nanomaterials that have a particular characteristic, such as reactivity, solubility, or stability.

An evolving tool for researchers

The registry will grow and improve as the quality and quantity of information on nanomaterials increases. In addition to the physical and chemical characteristics of nanomaterials, the site will be adding biological and environmental study data.

In the future, the Nanomaterial Registry will also provide predictive modeling, based on elaborate matching algorithms that are currently in development under the direction of Michele Ostraat, Ph.D., senior director of the Center for Aerosol and Nanomaterials Engineering at RTI, and the project's lead researcher.

Researchers are encouraged to consult the minimal information standards set for the registry when designing nanomaterial studies, so that data from their studies can be considered for the registry.

An advisory board of distinguished experts from the scientific community is guiding the development of the registry. Representatives to the board include those from private industry and academia, consumers, clinicians, medical practitioners, and government regulators.

RTI International is a leading research institute that provides research and technical expertise to governments and businesses in more than 40 countries.

(Cindy Loose is a contract writer with the NIEHS office in Bethesda, Md.)

Nanomaterials — Benefits and concerns

Some nanosized materials occur naturally, such as proteins in the body, but of particular interest are nanomaterials that scientists are now able to engineer. One nanometer is approximately 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. By definition, nanomaterials have at least one dimension that is less than 100 nanometers.

Nanotechnology represents one of the most exciting emerging sciences, with applications for creating and improving numerous consumer and commercial products. It holds great promise for boosting the economies of nations that take the lead in understanding and exploiting the unique properties that emerge when substances are engineered to nanoscale. However, the same optical, magnetic, and electrical properties that make nanomaterials potentially beneficial in drug delivery and product development also cause concern about their potential effects in the environment and, thus, on human health.

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