Phillip Clapp Takes STEPs into Nanoparticle Aerosol Research at the University of Bern

Through the generous support of the Society of Toxicology (SOT) Supplemental Training for Education Program (STEP), I was able to pursue specialized training in nanoparticle aerosol science and the application of a novel in vitro aerosol exposure system with Dr. Marianne Geiser at the University of Bern. Dr. Geiser is an expert in the field of nanoparticle aerosol toxicology and recently developed the Nano Aerosol Chamber for In Vitro Toxicity (NACIVT) system for conducting dose-response studies of nanoparticles in well-differentiated airway epithelial cell cultures. The Geiser lab utilizes the NACIVT to understand how airborne nanoparticles interact with the inner surfaces of the lungs and ultimately affect respiratory health.

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My SOT STEP award provided funding for training in nanoparticle aerosol science at the University of Bern, Switzerland.

Engineered nanoparticles are intentionally manufactured particles smaller than 100 nanometers in size. These nanomaterials, which include carbon nanotubes, graphene, fullerenes, quantum dots, and metal oxides, have provided a basis for technological innovation in a wide range of fields and consumer products. However, the toxicities associated with these materials in the context of incidental inhalation exposures are largely unknown. In vitro studies of nanoparticle aerosols are inherently challenging because physiologically relevant exposure concentrations are difficult to achieve with continuous aerosol flow exposure systems and suspending nanoparticles in solution alters particle characteristics and particle/cell interactions. The NACIVT system overcomes these challenges by using electrostatic deposition to achieve physiologically relevant nanoparticle concentrations at the mucosal surface, providing a means for realistic in vitro toxicity studies in a high-throughput format. Furthermore, the NACIVT is portable, allowing for toxicity studies in the field, directly at the particle source.

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 The Nano Aerosol Chamber for In Vitro Toxicity (NACIVT) system I used to study the toxicity of nanoparticle aerosols during my training with Dr. Marianne Geiser. 

My three-week training with Dr. Geiser provided an immersive learning experience covering the fundamental concepts of aerosol science, methods for particle characterization, use of a scanning mobility particle sizer spectrometer (SMPS), high-throughput study designs, hands-on operation of the NACIVT, and analysis of experimental data. I also was trained on transmission electron and scanning electron microscopy methods for visualizing nanoparticles at and within the respiratory epithelium. In addition to my training with Dr. Geiser and her collaborators in the Institute of Anatomy, I traveled to the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) to meet Dr. Heinz Burtscher, Head of the Institute of Aerosol and Sensor Technology. Dr. Burtscher, architect of the NACIVT, explained the science behind the engineering of this system and how electrostatic charge is used to enhance nanoparticle deposition at the mucosal surface.

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Microscopist Adolfo Odriozola teaches me about novel methods for visualizing nanoparticles with the Quanta FEG 250 environmental scanning electron microscope.

While in Bern, I was fortunate to attend the Department for BioMedical Research’s Day of Clinical Research symposium, which highlights the current translational research being conducted at the University. This symposium gave me the opportunity to talk with investigators and trainees working in various translational research areas. Additionally, my visit coincided with the 12th annual Swiss Aerosol Group (SAG) meeting that focused on novel methods for investigating environmental aerosols and the potential health effects of aerosols generated by new and emerging tobacco products. The presentations and discussions at this meeting were extremely informative. Moreover, this SAG meeting provided an excellent opportunity to network with well-respected aerosol scientists and inhalation toxicologists from across Switzerland.

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 View of the Swiss Alps from the University of Bern

Overall, this training opportunity provided me with a comprehensive introduction to nanoparticle aerosol science and a foundational understanding of nanoparticle aerosol research. I am extremely appreciative of the SOT Education Committee Graduate Subcommittee support and to SOT for providing me with a financial means for this experience. The knowledge, technical skills, and professional connections I gained through my STEP award are an invaluable part of my training and will further me towards my career goal of becoming an impactful academic researcher in the field of inhalation toxicology.

The next STEP application deadline is October 9, 2018.

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