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Nano-Safety Research Group

Specialists in the assessment of nanomaterial toxicity to human health and the environment

Suzanne Gillies


The use of transgenic zebrafish as a tool to study nanomaterial inflammogenicity



Suzanne studied a BSc in Biological Sciences at Heriot-Watt University, and graduated in June 2016. In her final year project, Suzanne worked with the Nano-Safety Research Group where she investigated the hepatic toxicity of polymeric nanomedicines. Throughout this project Suzanne’s research interests became focused on nanotoxicology, and shortly after graduating she joined the Nano-Safety Research Group as a PhD student.

Over 1800 consumer products contain nanoparticles, and the nanotechnology industry is expected to continue to grow exponentially, making it likely that humans and the environment will become exposed to nanoparticles. There are safety concerns over nanoparticle exposure due to their small size (100nm or less) and high reactivity. Studies have identified health risks associated with nanoparticles, both in vitro and in vivo. As the nanotechnology market grows, novel nanomaterials must be investigated to determine if there are any safety risks associated with their exposure. The principles of the 3R’s encourage the reduction, refinement and replacement of animals within scientific research. As more novel nanomaterials are manufactured, more animals (e.g. rodents) will be used within the safety screening of those nanomaterials. Therefore, it is urgent that an alternative testing strategy is sought in order to reduce the number of animals used for scientific purposes.

Fish embryos are not protected by Home Office or European Union regulations and as such, their use in scientific research does not require licensing. The scientific use of non-protected organisms, such as fish embryos, meets the principles of the 3R’s. Therefore, the fish embryo is a viable alternative model organism in nanotoxicology studies. Zebrafish embryos and early larvae are an ideal organism for high throughput toxicity assays due to their transparency, small size, ease of handling, high fecundity and rapid development. Zebrafish are highly amenable to genetic manipulation, and there are currently 100’s of transgenic lines available. Within her PhD project, Suzanne will investigate the suitability of transgenic zebrafish embryos and early larvae as an alternative in vivo model organism for use within nanotoxicity studies.



Dr Helinor Johnston
Prof Vicki Stone
Dr Ted Henry


2016 – 2019, School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Heriot-Watt University