Are nanoparticles healing you or harming you? A new test has the answer.

Nanoparticles are tiny objects inserted into the body and used to deliver drugs to sick cells. They could revolutionize medicine - as long as we can prevent these untested particles from becoming accidentally toxic.

A team of researchers at North Carolina State took up the task of developing a test of nanoparticle effectiveness. Toxicology professor Dr. Nancy Monteiro-Riviere explains what they were hoping to accomplish:

"We wanted to find a good, biologically relevant way to determine how nanomaterials react with cells. When a nanomaterial enters the human body, it immediately binds to various proteins and amino acids. The molecules a particle binds with will determine where it will go."

As nanoparticles bind with amino acids and proteins in the body, a lot can potentially change about how the treatment works. Depending on what the particles bind with, its toxicity could increase from safe to harmful levels, or its ability to get the needed drugs to the right cells could be severely diminished.

The researchers developed their screening tool by mixing a variety of nanoparticles with different chemicals found in the body, which allowed them to determine what sorts of nanomaterials will bond with various biological molecules. They found that a nanoparticle's size and surface traits were the key determiners of its bonding partners, and this allowed them to create "fingerprints" for each nanoparticles that predict their bonding behavior once in the body.

Monteiro-Riviere explains how this new screening procedure will help make for better nanoparticle treatments:

"This information will allow us to predict where a particular nanomaterial will end up in the human body, and whether or not it will be taken up by certain cells. That in turn will give us a better idea of which nanoparticles may be useful for drug delivery, and which ones may be hazardous to humans or the environment."

[Nature Nanotechnology]