New research on molecular response to nanoparticles reveals power of nanoinformatics

(Nanowerk News) Researchers have discovered a new response mechanism specific to exposure to nanoparticles that is common to multiple species. By analysing a large collection of datasets concerning the molecular response to nanomaterials, they have revealed an ancestral epigenetic mechanism of defence that explains how different species, from humans to simpler creatures, adapt to this type of exposure.
The project was led by Doctoral Researcher Giusy del Giudice and Professor Dario Greco at the Finnish Hub for Development and Validation of Integrated Approaches (FHAIVE), Tampere University, Finland, in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team from Finland, Ireland, Poland, UK, Cyprus, South Africa, Greece and Estonia – including Associate Professor Vladimir Lobaskin from UCD School of Physics, University College Dublin, Ireland.
The paper was published in Nature Nanotechnology ("An ancestral molecular response to nanomaterial particulates").
Director of FHAIVE, Professor Greco said: “We have demonstrated for the first time that there is a specific response to nanoparticles, and it is interlinked to their nano-properties. This study sheds light on how various species respond to particulate matters in a similar manner. It proposes a solution to the one-chemical-one-signature problem, currently limiting the use of toxicogenomic in chemical safety assessment.”

Systems Biology meets Nanoinformatics

Associate Professor Vladimir Lobaskin, who is an expert in nanostructured biosystems, said: “In this major collaborative work, the team led by the University of Tampere and including UCD School of Physics not only discovered common responses to nanoparticles across all kinds of organisms from plants and invertebrates to humans but also common features of nanomaterials triggering those responses.”
He said: “Tens of thousands of novel nanomaterials reach the consumer market annually. It is an enormous task to screen them all for possible adverse effects to protect the environment and human health. It could be damage to the lung when we inhale dust, a release of toxic ions by dust particles, production of reactive oxygen species, or binding of the cell membrane lipids by nanoparticles. In other words, it all starts with relatively simple physical interactions at the surface of the nanoparticles that are usually not known to biologists and toxicologists but needed to understand what we should fear when exposed to nanomaterials.”
In the past decade, OECD countries have adopted a mechanism-aware toxicity assessment strategy based on the Adverse Outcome Pathway analysis establishing causal relationships between biological events leading to a disease or negative effect on the population. Once the Adverse Outcome Pathway is determined, one can trace the chain of biological events back to the origin – the molecular initiating event that triggered the cascade.
Attempts of statistical analysis of the toxicology data of recent years have not succeeded in identifying the nanomaterial properties responsible for the adverse outcomes. The problem is that the material characteristics typically provided by the producers, such as nanoparticle chemistry and size distribution, are too basic and insufficient to make sensible predictions of their biological activity.
An earlier work, co-authored by the UCD School of Physics team, suggested the collection of advanced descriptors of nanomaterials, using computational materials science if necessary, to understand the interactions of nanoparticles with biological molecules and tissues and enable the prediction of the molecular initiating events. These advanced descriptors can provide the missing bits of information and include the materials’ dissolution rates, the polarity of the surface atoms, molecular interaction energies, shape, aspect ratios, indicators of hydrophobicity, amino acid or lipid binding energy – as well as anything that may cause disruption of the normal cell or tissue functions.
Associate Professor Lobaskin and colleagues at UCD Soft Matter Modelling Lab have been working on in silico materials’ characterisation and evaluated the descriptors that correlate with the hazardous potential of nanoparticles.
He said: “In the analysis presented in this latest Nature Nanotechnology paper, we for the first time were able to see what is in common between different materials associated with the health risks at the molecular level. This publication is the first demonstration of the power of nanoinformatics, a new field of research extending the ideas from cheminformatics and bioinformatics, and also a big promise: using digital twins of materials created on a computer will soon enable us to screen and optimise novel materials for safety and functionality even before they are produced to make them safe and sustainable by design.”
Source: UCD Research and Innovation (Note: Content may be edited for style and length)
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