A major challenge in assessing the risks and safety of nanomaterials is the lack of systematic knowledge on their exposure and also on their potential to cause harm to human health and the environment. Data generation on the hazard and exposure of nanomaterials are therefore absolute must for the implementation of the health risk assessment paradigm for nanomaterials.

The following projects are currently underway in the Toxicology Division:

Risk Assessment of Gold Nanomaterials: An OECD Sponsorship Programme

This project was initiated to fill in the information gap necessary for human and environmental risk assessment of gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) that will soon be commercialized in South Africa. This project focuses on generating data on the hazard and exposure to AuNPs. Through the methodologies and the infrastructure established and the human capacity developed by training of expertise needed in the hazard identification, dose-response assessment, exposure assessment, and risk characterisation of the risk assessment paradigm, as well as in the development of predictive modelling, this project will establish the necessary platform for the risk assessment of other nanomaterials that will soon be produced in large quantities in South Africa. In addition, this project will contribute to the establishment of biological and environmental standards for these nanoparticles. This project is funded by the Department of Science and Technology.

Nanotechnology Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) Risk Research Platform

This platform focuses on the characterisation and occupational and environmental exposure assessment of nanomaterials and their agglomerates and aggregates in South Africa. Human health risk assessment of engineered nanoparticles in occupational settings will also be assessed; as well as the fate and behaviour of nanoparticles in waste and fresh water. This project aims to provide baseline data to address human health risk assessment, and to mitigate the risks identified. This project is funded by the Department of Science and Technology.

cALIBRAte Project

cALIBRAte is a European Union based interdisciplinary group of researchers whose objective is to establish a versatile risk governance framework for assessment and management of human and environmental risks of nanomaterials and nanomaterial-enabled products. The Toxicology Section has been participating in the cALIBRAte project, especially in work packages (WP) 2 and 3, which involve the compilation and development of human and environmental hazard, exposure and risk assessment models, as well as WP 7, which analyses the information requirements, sensitivity and performances of the identified models and tools.


NANOSOLUTIONS project: Biological Foundation for the Safety Classification of Engineered Nanomaterials (ENM): Systems Biology Approaches to Understand Interactions of ENM with Living Organisms and the Environment. (recently completed project)

This research proposal was designed for the main aim of providing a means to develop a safety classification model for engineered nanomaterials (ENM) based on their biological hazard potential. The parameters for the development of this model included identifying and comprehensively characterizing the physicochemical properties of the 31 ENM and how their properties influence the interaction of ENMs with living organisms at molecular, cellular and organism level. The Toxicology Section contributed to this project by assessing the in vitro toxicity and intracellular uptake of the nanomaterials in the Human bronchial epithelial BEAS-2B cell line using the xCELLigence Real-time Cell Analyser (RTCA) system and CytoViva Hyperspectral Imaging system (HSI). CytoViva HSI system was also used to determine and verify the presence of the ENM in ex vivo tissue samples.