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Grant to help UK team study nanoparticles' effects

Researchers at the University of Kentucky have won a four-year, $2 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to study how nanoparticles enter the body.

The grant will allow a team of researchers led by Robert Yokel, a professor in the College of Pharmacy, to define the basic properties of nanoparticles and the effects of those properties in living organisms.

The study will have “truly global” implications, said Russell Wright Jr., deputy regional administrator for the EPA Region 4.

Nanotechnology is the manipulation of extremely small particles. A human hair, for example, is approximately 50,000 nanometers wide. Nanoparticles are 1 to 100 nanometers long.

Nanotechnology is a growing field. Researchers are exploring the use of these particles in drug delivery, medical devices and other technologies. At UK alone there are 30 other projects that involve nanotechnology, Yokel said.

But there are a lot of unknowns about the particles.

“There's not been a lot of work to understand some of the potential risks, including environmental,” Yokel said.

He and his team, which includes scientists from the department of anatomical sciences at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, will look specifically at cerium oxide, a diesel fuel additive used in Europe.

The research will define the basic properties of the particles and examine how they are absorbed by the body.

“Those results can then be used to avoid what one doesn't want,” Yokel said.

The grant is part of the EPA's research efforts to understand the environmental implications of nanotechnology.

“All of technologies have impacts on our lives,” Wright said. “Along with the benefits, there are many risks. Some of those risks may impact human health and the environment.”

The grant is the single-largest Science to Achieve Results grant awarded by the EPA for nanotechnology, Wright said.