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Nano-Safety Research Group

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

Dr Helinor Johnston

heli profile smallThere are many uncertainties surrounding the potential adverse effects associated with the exposure of humans and the environment to nanomaterials. However, many benefits may be realised through the exploitation of nanomaterials in numerous applications, in diverse sectors. It is therefore necessary to address these uncertainties, so that innovation in this emerging area is not stifled and appropriate control measures can be introduced to manage any identified risks, so that the benefits promised may be realised in a safe manner. Helinor is therefore involved with research that is responsible for addressing the risks posed by nanomaterials to human health and the environment, and in particular research that is responsible for investigating the mechanisms underlying the toxicity of nanomaterials, and identifying the physico-chemical properties of nanomaterials that confer toxicity.


Dr Helinor Johnston is lecturer of Toxicology, who joined Heriot-Watt University as the Deputy Director of the Nano-Safety Group in January 2011. Prior to joining Heriot-Watt, Helinor was a scientific advisor (2009-2010) in the Chemicals and Nanotechnologies division of the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Helinor completed a post-doc in 2009 at Edinburgh Napier University that was concerned with reviewing the available published literature on the toxicity of nanoparticles to humans, through participation in the FP7 funded project ENRHES . Prior to this she completed her PhD entitled ‘Evaluating the uptake, intracellular fate and functional consequences of hepatocyte exposure, to a range of nanoparticles in vitro’ in 2008 at Edinburgh Napier University. Helinor's PhD was conducted as part of the FP6 funded project PARTICLE_RISK. Helinor completed her undergraduate degree at King’s College London, in Pharmacology and Toxicology in 2005.


Current research projects that Helinor is involved with investigate the mechanism of toxicity of a panel of nanomaterials to cells at various target sites, including the immune system (e.g. neutrophils, macrophages, lymphocytes), liver (hepatocytes), gastrointestinal tract, and lung. This work involves assessment of the cellular response to nanomaterial exposure, including but not limited to; cell viability, inflammatory responses, oxidative responses, modifications to intracellular signalling and imaging of nanomaterial uptake by cells.  An integral part of her research is the development of alternative models (e.g. in vitro, zebrafish) to assess nanomaterial safety. More recently, Helinor has also become more interested in testing the efficacy and safety of nanomedicines, and assessing the consequences of nanomaterial exposure for bacteria. Helinor also collaborates with ecotoxicologists to investigate the impacts of nanomaterials on aquatic and terrestrial organisms.


Contact Helinor


Call: +44 (0) 131 451 3303
Location: John Muir Bldg room JMF18, School of Life Sciences, Heriot-Watt University, Riccarton Campus, Edinburgh, EH14 4AS


 Research Profile