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Detecting nanoparticle toxicity

Although only a few nano-drugs are on the mar­ket today, num­bers here should rise rapid­ly in com­ing years. But pos­si­ble side-effects of the nano-par­ti­cles on the liv­ing cell struc­tures are as yet not well known. The Nan­otox­is­creen project will help improve the sit­u­a­tion and our understanding. 

UTC’s Enzyme and Cell Engi­neer­ing Lab. (UTC-GEC) has been study­ing for sev­er­al years now, how to syn­the­size nano­ma­te­ri­als, to test their physi­co-chem­i­cal prop­er­ties and inter­ac­tions with liv­ing cells and tissues. 

It is in this frame­work of research that the Lab has devel­oped a cer­tain num­ber of tech­niques pour syn­the­sis and char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of nanoparticles. 

How­ev­er no method was avail­able to sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly and rapid­ly detect pos­si­ble tox­i­c­i­ty on human cells and for this very rea­son, Nan­otox­is­creen was conceived.

First objective : nano-drugs for the skin

In the frame­work of this project UTC-GEC has ini­ti­at­ed a col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Applied Sci­ences of Thürin­gen (Ger­many), devel­op­ing microsys­tems to make and observe cell cul­tures under a flu­o­res­cent micro­scope. Nan­otox­is­creen is co-financed by the Picardie Region, and accom­pa­nies the EC Pro­gramme Nan­oDrugs – prepa­ra­tion of func­tion-ori­ent­ed nano-mate­ri­als designed to devel­op new skin drugs. 

“We are work­ing more specif­i­cal­ly on drugs that will help cure skin dis­eases, espe­cial­ly the cat­e­go­ry of inflam­ma­to­ry skin dis­or­ders”, says Kart­sten Haupt, research sci­en­tist work­ing at UTC-GEC. “The nano-par­ti­cles in the drug lotions will stay on the skin but will not pen­e­trate below the skin giv­en their dimen­sion. In effect, the scale of nano-par­ti­cles we are study­ing are between 30 and 70 nm. They are gen­er­al­ly com­posed of a com­pound poly­mer and an active agent. But we can also add mag­net­ic or flu­o­res­cent nano-par­ti­cles, accord­ing to needs”.

Direct observation

The cells stud­ied are genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied ker­a­nocyste (skin cells); they have a gene that trig­gers pro­duc­tion of a flo­res­cent pro­tein if the cell is stressed. 

“Using the micro-sys­tems devel­oped at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Applied Sci­ences Thürin­gen, we can observe direct­ly the impact of the nano-par­ti­cles inject­ed in the skin cells cul­ti­vat­ed in the sys­tem”, explains Karsten Haupt. It is a closed sys­tem that presents a cer­tain advan­tage com­pared with stan­dard approach­es. “A close sys­tem is eas­i­er to han­dle under a micro­scope, giv­en that we no longer need to place the cul­tured cells in a spe­cial atmos­phere. We could eas­i­ly extend the sys­tem to oth­er micro­scopes”. The data obtained after obser­va­tion under micro­scope can then be used to mod­elise the release of the active agent on the patient’s skin. This obser­va­to­ry plat­form could also be used in bio­med­ical domain in gen­er­al, or in cos­me­tol­ogy and also to study oth­er types of cell. 

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