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Nano-Safety Research Group

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



GRACIOUS - Framework for grouping and read-across of nanomaterials/nanoforms for regulatory risk assessment and safe-by-design

Funding: EU H2020 Jan 2018 - Jun 2021 - Euro's 6.9 million total (0.8 million to HWU)

Background: Manufacturing and functionalising materials at the nanoscale can lead to a whole array of nanoforms (NFs) of a substance varying in e.g. size, morphology and surface characteristics. Due to financial, time and ethical consideration, safety testing for the risk assessment of every unique NF is virtually impossible. Grouping and read-across are currently used in a regulatory context to predict hazard and exposure information for data poor substances based on structural and chemical similarity with data rich substance.   

Goal: The main goal of GRACIOUS is to generate a highly innovative science-based Framework to enable practical application of grouping, leading to read-across and between NFs. In achieving this goal, GRACIOUS will streamline the risk assessment process for both regulatory and safe-by-design processes.

The GRACIOUS Framework is based on scientifically sound hypotheses that allow NFs, materials and substances to be grouped logically, subsequently facilitating read-across. The GRACIOUS Framework has 3 levels that facilitate initiation, development and justification of the hypothesis that encompasses information relevant to “Lifecycle environmental release and human exposure”, “What they are: physicochemical identity”, “Where they go: Environmental fate, uptake and toxicokinetics”, and “What they do: human and environmental toxicity”.  Based on the available data and information, each hypothesis may trigger specific tailored Integrated Approaches to Testing and Assessment (IATAs) that guide testing, modelling and assessment in a tiered manner, with the aim of generating the scientific evidence justifying the grouping and read-across. The IATAs will reduce, refine and replace (where possible) the need for animal testing by promoting the use of predictive modelling, in vitro and cell-free tests.  Stakeholders play an active role in the iterative cycle of design, testing and refinement to ensure that the Framework effectively meets the needs of both regulators and industry.


NC3Rs: Activation and Resolution of Neutrophil Responses


Developing alternative models to evaluate the impact of nanomaterials on neutrophils during the stimulation and resolution of inflammation

Staff: Helinor Johnston, Rachel Verdon, Vicki Stone, Ted Henry                 nc3rs models 

Funding: NC3Rs

Activation of the immune system (inflammation) is essential to protect the body from harm caused by infection (e.g. bacteria), chemicals or pollution. Immune cells (white blood cells) are responsible for recognising these harmful stimuli and if possible, destroying them. Different types of immune cells vary with regards to their appearance, what stimuli they recognise, and how quickly they respond (hours vs days). Neutrophils (a type of immune cell) are part of the first line of defence; they travel in blood and patrol organs. Following recognition of a harmful stimulus neutrophils accumulate in the affected organ (e.g. lungs, liver) causing inflammation. This inflammation can last for a few hours or persist for weeks to years. In order to stop an inflammatory response neutrophils die. Failure of neutrophil responses to resolve (recover) can cause illness,as during inflammation neutrophils release molecules which destroy harmful stimuli but unfortunately may also damage the body. Toxicology studies investigate if substances cause harmful effects in humans, including inflammation.

There is evidence that some nanomaterials (NMs) can cause inflammation which may lead to adverse health effects. Laboratory experiments commonly use animals (rodents) to assess neutrophil accumulation in organs over time as an indicator of how toxic NMs are. Many studies therefore focus on neutrophil accumulation as a marker of toxicity. More studies are needed to assess whether this inflammation resolves. If inflammation resolves then NMs can be regarded as being of low toxicity. As NM use increases there is more demand for rodent studies to assess their potential toxicity. However, rodent studies are expensive, time consuming and there are ethical concerns about the use of rodents for scientific research and regulatory testing. The availability of good alternatives to rodent models for NM toxicity testing will reduce or replace rodent use. In vitro experiments study the response of neutrophils in the laboratory, without requiring rodents. Cells can be isolated from human blood (termed primary cells). Primary cells have a short lifetime and require humans to provide blood samples. Instead, neutrophil cell lines, which live longer, can be purchased, however they may not respond in the same way as primary cells. For the immune system to function properly communication between different cell types in the body is required. Zebrafish (ZF) allow inflammatory responses to be evaluated in an intact non-rodent and so can be employed to reduce rodent use. Zebrafish are available with fluorescent immune cells, and can be used to investigate inflammatory responses as neutrophil accumulation can be visualized and quantified over time.

Our project will identify approaches to investigate the ability of NMs to stimulate neutrophil responses in the laboratory and will identify if cells and ZF are good alternatives to rodents. We will compare our results to findings previously obtained from rodent studies to identify whether cells and ZF provide a good prediction of the rodent response. If they behave similarly then the scientific community may use these alternatives to decrease the numbers of rodents used to assess NM safety. Importantly, these alternatives are not restricted to testing NM safety and could be used to test the toxicity of a wider range of pollutants, chemicals (e.g. drugs) and microbes.


  • Prof Adriano Rossi (University of Edinburgh)
  • Prof Charles Tyler (University of Exeter)
  • Prof Lang Tran (Institute of Occupational Medicine)

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Quality Nano

QNANO: Quality Nano

Staff: Vicki Stone, Teresa Fernandes, Helinor Johnston


Funding: FP7


Project Aims:

The main aims of the project are to:

  • integrate 28 top European analytical & experimental facilities in nanotechnology, medicine and natural sciences with the goal of developing and implementing best practice and quality in all aspects of nanosafety assessment

Our role within the project is to:

Chair the Biological Expert Group who will provide advice to QualityNano partners about different aspects of the project such as the Round Robin exercises, and workshop content.


Project Website:



  • Natural History Museum (UK)
  • Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM) (UK)
  • University of Leeds (UK)
  • University of Exeter (UK)
  • Joint Research Centre - JRC - European Commission (JRC) (Belgium)
  • Facultés Universitaires Notre-Dame de la Paix de Namur (FUNDP) (Belgium)
  • Vlaamse Instelling voor Technologisch Onderzoek NV (VITO) (Belgium)
  • Tyoeterveyslaitos Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH)(Finland)
  • University Paris Sud (UPS) (France)
  • Institut National de L'Environnement Industriel et des Risques (INERIS) (France)
  • Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (BfR) (Germany)
  • Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT) (Germany)
  • Helmholtz Zentrum München, Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt, GmbH (HMGU) (Germany)
  • Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU) (Germany)
  • Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung (DGUV) (Germany)
  • University College Dublin - National University of Ireland, Dublin (NUID UCD) (Ireland)
  • Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures & Nanodevices (CRANN), Trinity College, Dublin (Ireland)
  • Tel-Aviv University (TAU) (Israel)
  • Stichting Dienst Landbouwkundig Onderzoek (DLO/RIKILT) (Netherlands)
  • Wageningen University (WU)  (Netherlands)
  • Norsk Institutt for Luftforskning (NILU) (Norway)
  • Slovenská Zdravotnícka Univerzita v Bratislave (SMU) (Slovakia)
  • Asociación Centro de Investigación Cooperativa en Biomateriales (CIC)  (Spain)
  • Institut Català de Nanotecnologia (ICN) (Spain)
  • Uppsala University (UU) (Sweden)
  • Institut Universitaire Romand de Santé au Travail (IST) (Switzerland)



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Marina: Managing Risks of Nanomaterials

Staff: Teresa Fernandes, John Kinross, Simon Little, Jonathan Curry 


Funding: FP7


Project Aims: 

The aim of Marina is to develop and validate risk management methods for nanomaterials. As part of the project the suitability of standardised ecological test systems, such as those laid out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for the testing of nanomaterial toxicity wil be investigated.  Our role is to  investigate the ecotoxicity of a panel of engineered nanomaterials using a variety of models including Lumbriculus variagatus (worm) and Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata (algae).


Project Website:



  • Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM)
  • European Research Services GmbH (ERS)
  • Aarhus University (AU)
  • Commissariat à l'énergie atomique (CEA)
  • Institut für Energie- und Umwelttechnik e.V (IUTA)
  • Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (EMPA)
  • Finnish Institute for Occupational Health (FIOH)
  • Fraunhofer-Institut für Molekularbiologie und Angewandte Oekologie IME-AE (IME)
  • Freie Universität Berlin (FUB)
  • Gothenburg University (UGOT)
  • Colorobbia
  • Institut National de l'Environment Industriel et des Risques (INERIS)
  • Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Tecnología Agragia y Alimentaria (INIA)
  • Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (JRC)
  • Max-Delbrück Center for molecular medicine (MDC)
  • Nanotechnology Industries Association aisbl (NIA)
  • National Physical Laboratory (NPL)
  • Stichting Dienst Landbouwkundig Onderzoek (DLO)
  • National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM)
  • Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO)
  • Universität Salzburg (PLUS)
  • University College Dublin (UCD)
  • University of Leeds (LEEDS)
  • University of Wien (UVIE)
  • VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT)
  • Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster (WWU)
  • Technical University of Denmark (DTU)
  • Venice Research Consortium (CVR)
  • The REACH Centre Ltd (TRC)
  • Karolinska Institute (KI)
  • National Center for Nanoscience and technology (NCNST)
  • Institute of Biochemistry, Russian Academy of Science (INBI)
  • University of Parma (UP)
  • Tor Vergata University Roma 2 (TVUR)
  • Edinburgh Napier University (Napier)
  • Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU)
  • University of Plymouth (UoP)
  • The Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA)
  • University of Birmingham (BHAM)
  • University of Tübingen (EKUT)
  • Nofer Institute of Occupational Medicine (NIOM)
  • Institut universitaire romand de Santé au Travail (IST)
  • NANOCYL sa (Ncyl)
  • National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS)


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NanoImpactNet: European Network on the Health and Environmental Impact of Nanomaterials

Staff: Vicki Stone, Teresa Fernandes

Funding: FP7

Project Aims:

NanoImpactNet was a multidisciplinary European network on the health and environmental impact of nanomaterials. The project aimed to support the safe and responsible development of nanomaterials, and communication between the scientific community and a variety of stakeholders was essential e.g. to support the implementation of legislation in Europe. Vicki Stone and Teresa Fernandes were work package leaders of the ‘Hazards and fate of nanomaterials in the environment’ component of the project.

Project Website:

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