The Project

The issue with micro- and nanoplastics

Plastics play a fundamental role in modern living, and it is hard to imagine our lives without this highly useful material. At the same time, the amount of plastic waste in the environment has become a significant challenge. When reduced into minuscule pieces, plastics can enter the human organism. Microplastics, smaller than five millimetres in size, and nanoplastics, 500 times smaller than human hair, form as larger pieces of plastics degrade or are manufactured intentionally to be added to commercial products. In recent years scientists have detected micro- and nanoplastics (MNPs) all around the world, in urban atmospheres, as well as in remote and pristine environments. It has become clear that micro- and nanoplastics pollution is a global problem. People inhale MNPs through the air and ingest them through food and water, yet at this stage, it is unknown how many of them are out in the environment as there are no tools to measure and chracterise them with precision, nor is it known what effects they have on human health.

 

Imptox – approaching the problem

In Imptox, we aim to create a cross-disciplinary platform to design innovative analytical approaches to characterise and measure MNPs in the environment and understand their impact on health. As micro- and nanoplastics wear away, metals, allergens, pathogenic bacteria, and toxins latch on to them. Imptox scientists will evaluate the influence of ingested and inhaled MNPs polluted with those critical contaminants. They will do so by examining MNPs in relevant food preparation scenarios, in seafood, and in sea/freshwater spray aerosols, carrying out in vitro, in vivo, and clinical studies with allergic children. Researchers will pay particular attention to the effect of MNPs on asthma and allergic disease. Allergies are among the most common chronic diseases in Europe, and their prevalence is rising. While there is no clarity yet on the relationship between MNPs and allergies, there is a possibility that high concentrations of MNPs in the environment could increase the number of allergic people or worsen their allergies.

 

The Workplan

The Imptox workplan is organised according to the type of research task to be carried out. This promotes a highly interdisciplinary, collaborative environment in which investigators from all aspects of the project share outcomes and standard operating procedures, model MNP systems, and analytical tools.

1 MNPs in food and air

We plan to identify and characterise MNPs in a variety of foods, plants and in coastal air samples.

2 New tools

We aim to develop and optimise analytical tools for MNP detection and characterisation beyond the current state-of-the-art. Open-source software based on machine learning will help speed that process up.

3 MNPs and contaminants

We intend to generate new knowledge on MNPs as carriers of common pathogens, heavy metals, and allergens.

4 In vitro and in vivo testing

We will carry out studies on the impact of model MNPs and MNPs plus contaminants in vitro and in vivo.

5 Clinical studies

We will conduct clinical studies with children living in cities and by the seaside to determine links between MNP exposure and food allergy.