Technique Could Reduce Number of Animals Needed to Test Chemical Safety



Scientists have developed a new way of testing the safety of natural and synthetic chemicals. Their research could reduce the number of fish needed to test the toxicity of many chemicals including pharmaceuticals and environmental pollutants.

The scientists have succeed to coax the cells from the liver of a rainbow trout to form a ball-shaped structure in a petri dish. The ball-shaped structure also called spheroid behaves much more like normal animal tissue than cells that have been grown in traditional ways in the lab and thus the spheroid of cells give the researchers a more accurate picture of how an animal’s body would respond to a chemical in the environment.

Fish are used to test if chemicals can damage wildlife or the environment. Because a large number of spheroids can be produced from a single fish the use of this technique could mean less fish are needed to do these tests. Nowadays people are very concerned about environmental pollution, health of people and animal testing. Thus it’s important that we understand the effect of chemicals in the environment but we must avoid the use of animal testing and the technique described reduces the number of fish needed for toxicology testing.

The fish spheroids can be maintained in the lab for over a month which is important because scientists can test the effects of long-term exposure because environmental pollutants accumulate over time and become more concentrated further up the food chain and that is why they cause health problems.

Spheroid cells are much better than flat layer cells because flat layers break down quickly and they do not behave like real tissues. This is the first time that scientists have developed spheroid cells from fish but spheroid cells are already well used models for testing mammalian cells.

The liver filters blood and that’s why it’s the main organ where potential environmental toxins accumulate and are broken down by the body and thus it’s the most important organ for testing toxicity. Scientists hope to develop a “virtual fish” by combining fish spheroid cells from liver and gill in a single system. The gills are another important site of toxin accumulation.



By Krista Kiuru, Samuli Saastamoinen and Niclas Österlund



Coated nanoparticles in drug delivery

There might be a new way to deliver a drug to a target tissue. The Methodist Hospital Research Institute may have found a way to prevent the body from recognizing and destroying them before they deliver their drug payloads.

Nanoparticles are coated with patients own cell membrane, e.g. white blood cell membrane. The ability of the body’s defenses to destroy nanoparticles is a major barrier to the use of nanotechnology in medicine. The researcher group developed a procedure to separate membranes from cell innards. These separated membranes are used to cover the nanoparticles. These first drug-carrying nanoparticles, leukolike vectors, acts and looks like cells.

In future the researcher group is willing to make leukolike vectors totally synthetically because it is hard to get enough patients’ white blood cells.  So they want to optimize their harvesting by cell culturing. For now it’s the most effective way to use white blood cells.

Reseachers has generally focused on getting the particles to recognize specific tissue and to release drugs there. Over time the membrane lipids and proteins will break away, leaving the nanoparticles to degrade naturally after releasing their payload.


Susanna and Tero

Nanoparticles in cosmetics – a threat or an improvement

Nanotechnology is a multidisciplinary field that is getting wider as the days pass. ‘Nano’ has become a part of our everyday life that started from information technology and spreads fast to cosmetics. ‘Nano’ has come very close to us as we apply these nanoparticles on our skin. But the nanoparticles in our daily cosmetics are safe, right? It is not easy to say if nanoparticles in general are safe or not. There are just too many details for the average consumer to understand thoroughly. I tried to find out what is the difference between a safe and an unsafe nanoparticle. Or is there a difference at all?

Where does the cosmetic industry use nanoparticles?

Nanotechnology is used in three areas of the cosmetics production: formulation, packaging and manufacturing equipment. Well, it seems everything is alright with the packaging and equipment sections, while it is possible to develop antibacterial coatings or easy-to-clean surfaces. But when discussing nanoparticles in formulation everyone steps back a little.

Nanoparticles are used as the active ingredient, delivery vehicle or as a formulation aid. The particles can have very different morphologies and they can be organic, inorganic or both. As active ingredients nanoparticles can i.e. offer hair and dental care effects, as formulation aids they can function as thickening agents due to their unique rheological profile and as delivery vehicles they are employed to deliver fragile ingredients, such as vitamins, intact to the site of action.

Why they use nanoparticles?

Nanoparticles have different properties, like the high surface to volume ratio, from the same material in the bulk state. These changing properties can be for example solubility or optical properties. The best example is probably titania that is used in sunscreens because of it’s UVA/UVB reflective properties. Conventionally it is used as whitening agent but in the ‘nanoform’ it is transparent. This makes the sunscreen more pleasant to use while it won’t be like white paint on your skin. So, the goal of using nanoparticles is simply to improve the final product.


Titanium dioxide aggregate used in sunscreens (c) Lóreal

Why to worry?

The concerns are related to human and environmental safety. One of the most discussed issues for nanoparticles are their permeation through tissue barriers and whether the particles are degradable or not. Well, lots of good questions. Does the antimicrobial nano silver from my deodorant get into my systemic circulation? And is it for sure that the ceramides used in my shampoo degrade safely?

The most typical route of exposure considering cosmetic products is the dermal route. Our skin, however, serves a protective purpose and a healthy skin can prevent the nanoparticles entering viable tissues. Nevertheless it is also claimed that the smallest of the small (<30 nm particles) can be a potential health risk. There is just too much different combinations existing that it’s impossible to predict all of them.

The problem is the unawareness of the properties of these new materials, mostly due to lack of comparable methods that can be applied to the nanomaterials as well as to the bulks. The cosmetic industry among others is also lacking regulations and safety guidelines according to use of nanotechnology. That’s why I would recommend you to think: ‘Do I really need the properties in my cosmetics that are due to nanoparticles?’ So far, It’s up to you.



Cosmetics Europe.

Wu, X. 2012. Nanotechnology in cosmetics: A Review. Cosmetics & Toiletries. Issue: April 2012.

Mihranyan, A.; Ferraz, N. & Strømme, M. 2012. Current status and future prospects of nanotechnology in cosmetics. Progress in Materials Science. Vol. 57, Issue 5, pages 875-910.

Nano here, nano there, nano everywhere or Have we actually thought this thing through?

(Nota Bene: This post might make you think I’m against all things nano. I’m not.)

Nanopollution. How many of you have actually thought about it? About how to handle it, when we barely know what to do with the “regular” kind. Nanopollution, or pollution in general, might not be something that anyone really wants to think about but it won’t go away if we just hide our heads in the sand. And maybe pollution isn’t ethically or morally ambiguous or questionable, or any of those nice long words really, in itself but… What about its effects? Or what about the impact of nanomaterials in general, be it environmental or not?

As always, the first threat, risk or danger (whatever you wish to call it) that comes to mind is the one sci-fi has been imagining for us for years; the possibility that self-replicating nanobots could, slowly or aggressively, wipe out the whole biosphere. Yeah, maybe not.

But what about other, more realistic, concerns?

There’s the possibility that nanoproduct applications, not to mention the waste produced, could further destabilize the already endangered diversity of the biosphere, for one. Not to even mention what using nanoparticles might do to the human body. For example, breathing in particles around 20 nm was found to be lethal when 130 nm particles were entirely harmless in the air passing to your lungs.


The mistake that was made with GMOs, that of rubberstamping patents without taking a closer look at safety regulations, should not be made with this new and exciting world of nanoproducts. Nanomaterials and applications should be studied and not just because they may have a physical impact on the world around us, but also because there might be ethical questions raised, like “if we try and fix this unbalanced relationship between these two symbiotic creatures, will it actually fix the problem or will it give birth to something worse?”

What about the waste produced then? Most contemporary industrial processes produce non-biodegradable waste that just gets hauled to the dump or burned. In this way, nanotechnology opens a whole new world for us. A world, where the principles of green chemistry give us a firm foundation on which to build sustainable symbiotic processes with the possibility of zero waste and thus zero potentially harmful nanomaterials released to wreck havoc.

With all of these new things coming to existence with just the addition of “nano” onto a word, some might be frightened and demand banning everything related to it. Some might find it science fiction (Heaven knows my mom does) and some might leap head first into trying anything and everything new that comes with it. But maybe the middle road is the best way to go, go with enthusiasm but with appropriate caution.

In the end, can we ever even imagine, at this moment in time, what nanotechnology can become in the future, with or without human interference?

P.S. If you find pop culture references, yes they are there on purpose…most likely ^^


Sources: Wikipedia’s article on Nanopollution & Nanotechnologies: What we do not know by Vuk Uskokovic (published in Technology in Society, vol 29, p 43-61), image from:

Nanobots and the grey goo situation

First of all word nanobot is combined from two words: nano and bot = nanobot. Word nano comes from the size of the bots which is some nanometers depending on use. And bot refers to robot/some kind of mechanical structure that is able to do the given job by themselves. So nanobots are tiny robots. Image


Because we had to use the word nanobots we shall continue using that word even though it’s kind of science fiction like and nanorobots would be better expression.

Nanobots could have many functions (no actual mechanical nanobots have yet been constructed or created) like medical applications and actually the theoretical use of nanobots are endless because of their size. They could build anything that we know or even more. They are like small humans.

So what about the grey goo situation that is mentioned in the title. Well its very famous doomsday scenario given when talking about nanobots. The theoretical situation is that a swarm of nanobots gets out of control somehow. Maybe they would build a mind of their own or they get infected by a computer virus and they begin deconstructing all matter which  results in everything on the planet turn into shapeless grey goo. This is very unlikely to happen but raises concerns about nanotechnology’s safety issues. 

Scary isn’t it?



Juhana ja Teemu

Animal testing in biotecnology

Animals have been used repeatedly throughout the history of biomedical research. Even Aristotle have performed experiments on living animals. 1938 Food, drug and cosmetic act reguired safety testing of drugs on animals before they could be marketed and this was because of using diethylene glycol as a solvent in drugs. In recent years laws (2010/63/EU) have been passed in several countries to make animal testing in more humane way. Animal testing occurs regularly throughout the EU, across all of Europe there are approximately 12.1 million animal testing experiments each year. Rats and mice are the most of used animals.

Animal tests used in medical research:

In metabolic tests investigating how drugs are absorbed, metabolized and excreted by the body when dosed by different ways.

In toxicology tests investigating acute, sub-acute and chronic toxicity.

Efficacy studies test whether experimental drugs work by inducing the appropriate illness in animals.

Although animal testing makes animals suffer or even cause a painful death it has helped to develop medicines against many severe diseases like rabies, polio and HIV.

– Miikka Rosten and Laura Valli

Skulle Implants – New biomaterial company in Turku

Skulle Implants Oy is a company from Turku. There was a short piece of news about Skulle Implants in Turun Sanomat in last December.  The news told that they are building a factory in Vasaramäki Turku. Their goal is to start production of bioimplants in the spring 2013. These bioimplants are made of bioactive plastic with fibres and they can be used in bone tissue engineering. Skulle Implants has potential for making billions of euros and it will create several new jobs in Turku.

tehdas               The factory of Skulle Implants in Vasaramäki

It is always nice to read this kind of news. Especially in these dark times as the economy is bad and many people are losing their jobs. We have learned that biotechnology is the technology of the future. There are many new inventions related to biotechnology, for example in areas of tissue engineering and bionano-/nanobiotechnology. These inventions may lead to an increase in our life expectancy and creation of cures for diseases that are currently incurable. As immortality has been a long-standing dream of humanity, all inventions that increase life expectancy and quality of life will surely be well-received. This is the reason why we are certain that biotechnology industry will grow in Finland even as other industrial sectors are diminishing.

We have been wondering if there will be jobs for us when we graduate but now the future is starting to look bright from our perspective. There are many small biotechnology companies in Turku and elsewhere in Finland. Some of them have potential for becoming larger companies, as Skulle Implants has done. It will be a long and costly process but the rewards will more than cover the required investments. Although the main point is that these companies will create jobs for people with our education, but we shouldn’t forget that they will create jobs for many people from different areas of expertise. The potential growth of biotechnology industry in Finland may enable Finland to sustain its status as one of the leading technological countries.

Jenna & Niklas