Nanotechnologies and Food - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Further supplementary memorandum by Medical Research Council

  Thank you for the opportunity to present the MRC's work relevant to nanotechnology and food to the Select Committee. This response addresses issues raised during the evidence session and provides an update on several matters.


  This question was raised during the evidence session, and has been addressed in a separate response from BBSRC, to which the MRC contributed. To summarise, cross-placental transfer of nanoparticles is the subject of debate in the research community. There is limited data on this matter, but an unpublished (and therefore not peer-reviewed) study showing that transfer may occur in rats. There are probably a variety of routes of access, as with gut absorption, and different particles may behave in different ways. On balance, it is possible that some nanoparticles can cross from mother to foetus, but this has yet to be formally shown.


  The select committee asked how the United Kingdom's research effort rated compared to other countries, and at the time we could not give an assessment. The EMERGIMANO report which we referred to in the evidence session, has now been released at CB0409_7911_FRP.pdf provides information on the relative activity in environment, health and safety research on nanomaterials and nanotechnology in countries worldwide. The United Kingdom was found to conduct l5 per cent of studies, placing it second behind the USA. Additionally, a high number of studies had been completed (third, behind the USA and Canada), suggesting a leading position in the field.

  While these findings are encouraging for United Kingdom nanotechnology/nanotoxicology research, there is no doubt that there remain significant gaps in our knowledge, and the report highlights these well. The report covers all research funded by Research Councils (or their equivalents) and by agencies closer to policy making needs and regulation. We expect that combined efforts of several funders will continue to be needed, to cover the gaps across basic and applied, ideas-led and needs-led. The MRC, in combination with the other Research Councils, will play an important role in generating the scientific knowledge required to fill these gaps. Regulators, particularly the Food Standards Agency, DEFRA and the MHRA, will have an equally important function, using basic research findings to create an appropriate and balanced legislative environment for nanotechnology and food.


  The highlight notice in nanotoxicology, which was first released in March 2007, is at Annex 1, and on the MRC website at:

  This is currently the second version of the notice, with further revisions currently under consideration. Revisions will include a focus on "oral route" nanotoxicology, as discussed in the evidence session.

  Highlight notices are one of several mechanisms available to the MRC to increase funding in a particular scientific area. Although there is no specific funding associated exclusively with an area, highlight notices should not be considered inferior to other mechanisms; since they are not time-limited, it is often possible to do more through a highlight notice than other options. They also offer the potential for gradual revision as the scientific landscape changes, and as such offer an adaptable long-term commitment to an area. Our past experience has shown them to be highly effective in increasing the funding associated with the area in question.


  Since the evidence session, this programme of research (led by Dr Jonathan Powell) has been scientifically reviewed by the MRC. It was found to be of high quality, and the reporting subcommittee recommended its continued support.


  Annex 1—MRC Highlight Notice in Nanotoxicology.

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2010