Because the semiconductor properties of metal-oxide nanomaterials could potentially translate into health hazards for humans, animals and the environment, it is imperative, researchers say, to develop a method for rapidly testing these materials to determine the potential hazards and take appropriate preventative action.
To that end, UCLA researchers and their colleagues have developed a novel screening technology that allows large batches of these metal-oxide nanomaterials to be assessed quickly, based on their ability to trigger certain biological responses in cells as a result of their semiconductor properties. The research is published in the journal ACS Nano.
Just as semiconductors can inject or extract electrons from industrial materials, semiconducting metal-oxide nanomaterials can have an electron-transfer effect when they come into contact with human cells that contain electronically active molecules, the researchers found. And while these oxidation–reduction reactions are helpful in industry, when they occur in the body they have the potential to generate oxygen radicals, which are highly reactive oxygen molecules that damage cells, triggering acute inflammation in the lungs of exposed humans and animals.