The widespread application of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) attracts great attention to their environmental and health hazards. The traditional toxicology research focusses on the damage of various organs (heart, liver, spleen, lung and kidney, etc.) caused by various substances, while it neglects the effect of nanomaterials on the intestinal flora (as ‘forgotten organs’), the microbiota. In addition, nanomaterials released into the aquatic environment may affect the growth and reproduction of aquatic organisms and thus induce adverse ecological effects. Current methods of toxicity assessment are mainly based on animal tests and cellular assays. Besides the ethical concerns of animal testing, both methods are time, labour and cost intensive, and suffer from many other drawbacks.
To address the issues of state-of-the art nanotoxicity testing the FastNanoToxTest project aims to develop a multi-functional integrated microfluidic tool to assess the potential toxicity of nanomaterials. The effect of nanomaterials on the cell viability of human and aquatic organisms will be determined using microbiota and algae as model organisms. Real-time and in-situ detection of nanotoxicity is realized by incorporating model cells and monitoring of their metabolic data via integrated optical sensors. Bioprinting and inkjet printing realize incorporating of cell and multiple optical sensors. Bioprinting of different indicator cell types (algae and bacteria) is improving the reliability of the assay and enables the transport to other laboratories, thus overcoming a cost- and labour intensive cell culturing step. The lab-on-chip device will also contain a compact multi-channel read out instrument for high precision and non-invasive measurement of acidification and respiration rates. Using additive printing technologies and rapid replica moulding technologies the project will finally demonstrate the feasibility of industrial large-scale, continuous flow production of advanced lab-on-a-chip systems.
The development the rapid nanotoxicity assessment tool is underpinned by a fundamental study to understand the interaction between nanomaterials and the intestinal flora or aquatic organisms elucidating the effect of ENMs on microorganism structure, cellular uptake and distribution and common rules of interaction. 3D-model of intestinal barrier will be constructed to study the penetration efficacy of nanomaterials. Through the above outlined research, we obtain a large data set of the nanotoxicic effects on intestinal flora and aquatic ecosystems, thus providing a theoretical reference for designing safer nanomaterials.