“People have looked at the effects of nanoparticles on intestinal cells before, but they tend to work with really high doses and look for obvious toxicity, like cell death. We are looking at cell function, which is a much more subtle effect, and looking at nanoparticle doses that are closer to what you might really be exposed to.
“They tend to settle onto the cells representing the gastrointestinal tract and cause remodeling or loss of the microvilli, which are tiny projections on the surface of the intestinal absorptive cells that help to increase the surface area available for absorption,” said Mahler.
“This loss of surface area tends to result in a decrease in nutrient absorption. Some of the nanoparticles also cause pro-inflammatory signaling at high doses, and this can increase the permeability of the intestinal model.
“An increase in intestinal permeability is not a good thing — it means that compounds that are not supposed to pass through into the bloodstream might be able to.”
Unsure of long-term impact of nanoparticles in food packaging
Although Mahler studied the effects of nanoparticles from food packaging in the lab, she said she is unsure what the long-term health implications might be:
“It is difficult to say what the long-term effects of nanoparticle ingestion are on human health, especially based on results from a cell culture model.
“What I can say is that our model shows that the nanoparticles do have effects on our in vitro model, and that understanding how they affect gut function is an important area of study for consumer safety.”
The researchers are looking at how an animal model (chickens) responds to nanoparticle ingestion.
“We have seen that our cell culture results are similar to results found in animals and that the gut microbial populations are affected. Future work will focus on these food additive-gut microbiome interactions,” said Mahler.
Provided by: Binghamton University [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]