Supplementary memorandum by Department
for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS)
This response provides the further information
that the Committee asked BIS to provide at the evidence session
on 31 March 2009.
Nanotechnologies cut across traditional scientific
disciplines and could lead to a very diverse range of potential
applications and potential risks, therefore research usually involves
inter-disciplinary working and responsibility for risk management
is shared across a number of Government departments and agencies.
In February 2008, the Government published a
detailed statement that described the range of activities carried
out by Government departments and agencies and the Research Councils,
and the reasons for those activities. It also described the mechanisms
that are in place to coordinate those activities. We have provided
copies of the statement to the Committee. While it does not specifically
address nanotechnologies in specific sectors such as food, we
hope that it will give the Committee an overview of how the various
activities and responsibilities are linked.
The direction of the Government agenda for nanotechnologies
was set out in 2005 in response to the report by the Royal
Society and Royal Academy of Engineering "Nanoscience and
nanotechnologies: opportunities and uncertainties". The Council
for Science and Technology review in 2007 found that good
progress was being made in certain areas, although there was scope
for improvement in others. Subsequently, the Ministerial group
on nanotechnologies was established to give a greater profile
to the Government's work in this area. The statement was the result
of the first meeting of the group. At its most recent meeting
the group agreed on the need for an informed debate about the
future direction of the development of nanotechnologies, and agreed
that a strategy should be developed in dialogue with stakeholders.
On the specific information that DIUS offered
to provide to the Committee-
Work taking place to encourage research and development
and translation in relation to nanotechnologies in the food sector.
(This would include projects such as knowledge transfer networks
which are not aimed specifically at the food sector but would
impact upon it.)
The Government funds a number of activities
to translate the knowledge and ideas generated by fundamental
research into new products and services in areas where there are
market opportunities through the Technology Strategy Board. It
does this in a number of ways, for example Innovation Platforms,
Knowledge Transfer Networks, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships and
initiatives such as the Small Business Research Initiative.
The joint evidence submitted to the Committee
by the Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network and Leatherhead
Food International noted that they have formed a Food Focus Group
to promote awareness of the potential for nanotechnologies for
the food industry.
One of the 24 Micro and Nanotechnology
open access centres funded by the Technology Strategy Board, Eminate,
focuses its work on state of the art solutions to the food and
pharmaceutical industries with the aim of applying in-house process
technologies to develop customer products in the areas of advanced
coatings, materials and powders, food technology, drug delivery,
measurement and scale up through to pilot productions. This is
a five year project and the total grant is £3.5 million
of which £3 million has been drawn down to date.
Although not specifically addressing food, the
Technology Strategy Board is currently preparing strategies for
nanoscale technologies and biosciences. For nanoscale technologies
there is a focus on linking the pervasive nature of nanoscale
technologies to societal challenges of living with environmental
change, living with a growing/ageing population, and living in
an intelligent connected world. For Biosciences, the focus will
be on food technology and food safety.
The Research Councils are not specifically encouraging
research in relation to nanotechnologies in the food sector although,
as described in their evidence to the Committee, they are funding
a large amount of fundamental research in areas that may be of
relevance to the development of new technologies and products
and to the improved understanding of potential risks.
Details of projects being funded by the Government
into the toxicology of nanoparticles in the gut.
The Medical Research Council issued a "highlight
notice" in March 2007 to encourage applications in nanotoxicology
with the aim to inform policy development. The notice has proved
successful in stimulating a significant increase of applications
to the Research Boards. Since launch five awards were made at
a total level of approximately £3 million. This research
aims to better understand the uptake of nanoparticles into cells
and the functional consequences including oxidative stress, inflammatory
response, cell death and genotoxicity. By linking this information
to the physical and chemical characteristics of nanoparticles,
predictive models for nanoparticle toxicity can be developed that
will help risk assessment. There is currently no agreement on
which characteristics should be studied to evaluate the toxicity
of nanoparticles and many of the funded studies aim to address
this issue. A lot of this work is currently focused on the lung,
although some of the principles may be transferable to other organs
systems. Building on the current funding and the recommendations
in the recent report from the Royal Commission on Environmental
Pollution, the Medical Research Council has further refined the
highlight notice to encourage in particular studies which investigate
the effects of engineered nanoparticles in vivo.
More detail on the awarded studies is below:
1) Mechanisms of bioreactivity of engineered
nanoparticles with pulmonary gas exchange barrier (Imperial College)£600k/3yrs
Investigates the toxicity of common nano-particles,
such as carbon nanotubes, silver and titanium oxide, when taken
up by lung cells. The toxic effects will be related to the physical
and chemical properties of the nanoparticles to establish patterns
that will allow to predict the health effects engineered nanoparticles.
2) Understanding the genotoxic potential
of ultra-fine superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (University
of Wales, Swansea)£450/3yrs
Studies the genotoxic properties of iron oxide nanoparticles
with the aim to develop high-trough-put screening tests for genotoxic
effects; Aims to understand dose-response relationships, to inform
future in vivo studies and predictive approaches.
3) Defining the biologically effective
dose for pro-inflammatory effects of nanoparticles in lung target
cells (University of Edinburgh)£500k/3yrs
Investigates the inflammatory response in lungs following
the exposure to commonly used industrial nanoparticles. The potential
of these nanoparticles to cause oxidative stress and inflammation
will be examined at the cellular level and in animal models to
establish and validate better models for predictive testing.
4) Biological consequences of exposure
to prosthetic nanoparticles (University of Leeds)£500k/3yrs
Hip replacements generate nano-sized metal wear particles
that are released into the body. The project studies the genotoxic
and immunotoxic consequences in animal models over a period of
5) Pathway analysis in characterising
toxicological properties of nanoparticles (Imperial College)£550k/3yrs
Uses novel technologies (proteomics, functional genomics)
to identify key pathways that are responsible for toxic effects.
The aim is to apply these for routine screening purposes in the
In addition to these projects the Medical Research
Council supports research exploring the potential of dietary nanoparticles
for therapeutic use at the MRC Collaborative Centre for Human
Nutrition Research in Cambridge. This programme investigates the
uptake of dietary nanoparticles in the gut, the toxicity of these
particles and their effect on diseases of the digestive tract.
Dr Jonathan Powell, the Principal Investigator, has given evidence
to the Committee.
The toxicity of wear particles released from
hip replacements and the dietary nanoparticles for therapeutic
use are studied in the medium to longer term.
Although the focus of research at the National
Nanotoxicology Inhalation Research Centre (funded by the Health
Protection Agency) is on inhalation, research into the absorption
of nanoparticles across the skin is planned and the possibility
of studies into gut absorption is being considered. In addition,
the Food Standards Agency has recently published a research requirement
in the area of the toxicokinetics of nanoparticles, which includes
their behaviour in the gut.
Details of how the Government is trying to close
the gaps in scientific knowledge required for risk assessment:
what programmes are being supported, what money is being spent,
and how the Government is measuring progress.
Through the Nanotechnologies Research Coordination
Group (NRCG), Defra coordinates the activities of Government departments,
their agencies and the Research Councils. The NRCG has published
two research reports that provide much of this information and
copies of the reports can be found at http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/nanotech/research/index.htm.
A Defra-commissioned report "Emergnano" was published
on 15 April 2009 and details how much progress has been
made between 2004 and 2008 on NRCG's health, safety
and environmental research objectives (http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/nanotech/research/reports/index.htm£emergano).
On the basis of the report, the NRCG will update its research
requirements and publish the new requirements.
The Emergnano report looks at global research
in this area and identifies gaps that still remain. Globally there
is insufficient evidence to be able to say that any of the health,
safety and environmental research objectives have been completed.
Thus full risk assessments for any nanomaterial are not possible
The OECD and EU are also very active in the
area of risk assessment. Defra leads an OECD steering group that
is dedicated to identifying best risk assessment methods in the
absence of complete data.
DIUS does not retain funds centrally (these
are managed by delivery partners) and hence does not directly
fund work on risk assessment. However, DIUS does provide support
in the following areas
Progress in the ability to measure and
characterise nanoscale materials is essential for both the development
and the risk assessment of nanotechnologies. DIUS supports the
National Measurement Programmes across a number of different areas,
with a significant sum being spent on nanometrology.
DIUS provides funding for the fundamental
research supported by the Research Councils, who have provided
a separate submission to the Committee.
DIUS funds the Technology Strategy Board.
In addition to its support for innovation, the Board part-funds
SAFENANO, a free information service run by the Institute of Occupational
Medicine to provide companies with a multi-disciplinary range
of solutions to ensure that they can offer employees a safe and
healthy working environment and products that are safe for consumers.