A new study by the University of Edinburgh has shown that tiny particles used in a range of everyday products from computers to shampoo can adversely affect the lungs in very different ways.
Researchers suggest that industrial manufacturers using nanoparticles should be aware of the risks that different types of nanoparticles pose to workers who handle them.
Nanoparticles – which can be 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair – are potentially hazardous to workers handling the chemicals 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 showed that four different types of nanoparticles produced distinct patterns of lung injury in rats, some involving the immune system and found that some nanoparticles were more likely to trigger an asthmatic-style reaction while others led to a worsening severe lung injury.
The study highlights the need for animal models until there are improved cell-based tests to predict the effects of nanoparticles, since the use of cell cultures alone would not be able to pick up the extent of different diseases the nanoparticles are likely to cause.
"Nanoparticles are becoming more important in industry and are being used in ever-increasing amounts. This study shows that different types of nanoparticles may produce different diseases in those exposed to them in industry," said Ken Donaldson, Professor of Respiratory Toxicology at the University of Edinburgh.
"Therefore 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," he added.