College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Study pinpoints threat to workers’ lungs

Tiny particles used in a range of everyday products from computers to shampoo can adversely affect the lungs in very different ways

University research suggests that industrial manufacturers using nanoparticles should be aware of the risks that different types of nanoparticles pose to workers who handle them.


Nanoparticles can be 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

They are potentially hazardous to workers handling these chemicals, which are used to make products, as they may be at risk of inhaling them.

The particles are not, however, thought to pose any substantial risk once they are incorporated in consumer goods used by the public.

The study

The study showed that four different types of nanoparticles produced distinct patterns of lung injury in rats, some involving the immune system.

Researchers found that some nanoparticles were more likely to trigger an asthmatic-style reaction while others led to a worsening severe lung injury.

The study is published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

It highlights the need for animal models until there are improved cell-based tests to predict the effects of nanoparticles.

This is because the use of cell cultures alone would not be able to pick up the extent of different diseases the nanoparticles are likely to cause.

Each kind of nanoparticle needs to be assessed and appropriate care taken to minimise exposure consistent with the risk they pose. This will ensure better health and safety for those working with these new materials.

Ken DonaldsonProfessor of Respiratory Toxicology