Metal-phenolic network-coated nanoparticles for sustainable metal recycling, 2024–2028.

Team Grant (PRG2188)

Principal Investigator: Monika Mortimer, Ph.D.

The circular economy entails a great need for advanced and affordable technologies for water purification. For metal recycling from water, adsorption is promising due to its simplicity and affordability. This project will create a framework for the synthesis of eco-safe and biocompatible novel sorbent materials, metal-phenolic network-coated nanoparticles (MPN NPs) for metal recycling from various media, including wastewater, according to the principles of safe-and-sustainable-by-design (SSbD). For that, MPN NPs for metal sorption will be aimfully synthesized by varying the NP core and the metal and phenolic moieties. The MPN NPs will be evaluated for safety using environmental organisms and human cell lines, adhering to the 3R’s strategy (i.e., no vertebrate animals will be used). Consequently, the toxicity data will be used as a feedback loop for guiding the design of the MPN NPs to improve their eco-safety for metal recycling for tomorrow’s circular economy.

European metal-organic framework network: combining research and development to promote technological solutions (EU4MOFs), 2023-2027.

COST CA22147

MC member: Dr. M. Mortimer

More information about COST.

EU Circular Economy Network for All: Consumer Protection through reducing, reusing, repairing (ECO4ALL), 2023-2027.

COST CA22124

MC member: Dr. A. Kahru

More information about COST.

Introducing the new gene-based mechanistic research to the Laboratory of Environmental Toxicology – Ecotoxicogenomics, 1.02.2023-31.01.2025.

NICPB Development Fund project

Leader at NICPB: Dr. A. Khosrovyan

The current plastics life cycle is far from circular and not surprisingly plastic load remains ubiquitous and high on the land and at sea. However, data on the plastics’ potential toxicity to the living organisms available to date contain many gaps and unknowns, for example, long-term effects of plastic pollution on humans and wildlife. Our project will use the advantages of modern “omics” technologies to conduct integrated thorough research for characterization of the effects of plastic pollution including from the long-term perspective. The results have great potential to derive sensitive tools (methods and endpoints) to address the ecological consequences of the ubiquitous plastics waste. Establishment of an Ecotoxicogenomics line at NICPB will build upon the expertise and competence of the Laboratory and will be be at the cross-road of many other research lines at NICPB which can benefit from this new in-house expertise.

Center of nanomaterials technologies and research (NAMUR+), 2021–2024.

Core Infrastructures (TT), Estonian Research Council

Partners: TU (leader), TTU and NICPB
Leader at NICPB: Dr. K. Kasemets
Main contributors at NICPB: Dr. Anne Kahru, Dr. M. Sihtmäe and M. Otsus, MSc

The central goal of the Estonian Research Infrastructures Roadmap object “Center of nanomaterials technologies and research (NAMUR+)”, is to develop a cutting-edge infrastructure for the fabrication, research and implementation of nanomaterials and to merge it with the high-level research capability of the partners into an attractive multifunctional centre providing R&D services in nanotechnology and nanosafety. NAMUR+ is based on the expertise of research teams of the University of Tartu, Tallinn University of Technology and National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics in the fields of material science, nanotechnology, nanotoxicology, and novel energy conversion and storage systems. The centre offers high-level research services in nanotechnology and nanosafety to a wide range of partners, including the private sector.

Application of biocompatible nano-metal organic frameworks (nanoMOFs) in reducing the toxicity of metal nanomaterials, 2022-2024.

Returning researcher grant (STP28)

Principal Investigator: Monika Mortimer, Ph.D.

As a result of the extensive virus-fighting measures during the COVID-19 pandemic the use of antimicrobial chemicals (including Ag-, Cu- and Zn-based nanoparticles, NPs) has skyrocketed and is expected to result in heightened environmental burden of toxic metals and NPs. Effective mitigation of the NP toxicity by sequestration of the released metal ions and small-sized nanoparticles can help to protect the environment and broaden the fields of application of soluble metal NPs. Phenol-based metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) are ideal candidates for such application. In this project, biocompatible (non-toxic) nanosized MOF will be synthesized and its capacity to selectively and efficiently adsorb toxic metals will be evaluated. Evidence will be provided for MOF-mediated toxicity mitigation of Ag, CuO and ZnO NPs. The results will pave a way for future applications of biocompatible MOFs in environmental remediation and as antidotes.

Hazard Evaluation of Emerging Non-Phthalate Plasticizers: Environmentally Relevant Approach, 2022-2026.

Personal Research Funding PRG1427

Leader: Dr. Margit Heinlaan

We live in the Age of Plastic. Advanced knowledge on the endocrine-disrupting properties of commonly used phthalate plasticizers has created the need for sustainable alternatives, especially in sensitive human applications (medicinal, food, childcare). Thus, plastic manufacturing has started increasingly using new generation non-phthalate plasticizers (NPPs) to the extent they are already considered emerging contaminants. To avoid regrettable substitutions, (eco)toxicological impact of NPPs has to be understood. The main objective of this project is to identify environmental toxicity potential of emerging NPPs, focusing on long-term transgenerational effects in both aquatic and terrestrial biota and in co-exposure with microplastics. In addition, we will provide first NPPs monitoring data for the Estonian environment and develop the accompanying local analytical expertise. The results contribute to sustainable economic progress.

Best chemical risk assessment professionals for maximum Ecosystem Services benefit – PRORISK, 1.04.2020−31.03.2024.

EC Horizon 2020, H2020-MSCA-ITN-2019-859891

Leader at NICPB: Dr. A. Kahru
Senior staff at NICPB: Dr. V. Aruoja, Dr. M. Heinlaan, Dr. I. Blinova
Beneficiaries: Masaryk University (Czech Republic), Stichting VU (Netherlands), Norwegian Institute for Water Research (Norway), University of Girona (Spain), National Institute of
Chemical Physics and Biophysics (Estonia), Spanish National Research Council – Center for Advanced Studies of Blanes (Spain), Aarhus University (Denmark), Sheffield University (United Kingdom), Technical University of Denmark (Denmark), Consulteco s.r.o. (Czech Republic), Environmental Institute s.r.o. (Slovak Republic)

Vision of PRORISK is to provide a unique value by creating a novel platform for training a network of Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) in the field of advanced Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA). ERA is nowadays rapidly changing from relying on simplified descriptive laboratory tests to incorporating mechanistic, ecological and socio-economic process information. This revolutionizes the risk assessment making it increasingly comprehensive, realistic and relevant, also under consideration of other modulating effects such as non-chemical stressors or impact of global change. ESRs in PRORISK will gain the abilities to address this major challenge in risk assessment paradigm shift. They will work as future experts at the interface between the key concepts of sustainable protection of ecosystems and health – i.e. adverse outcome pathways (AOPs) and ecosystem services. Young researchers within PRORISK will develop and integrate mechanistic understanding, in-depth analyses of chemical-biological interactions and exposure, and functioning of ecosystems. They will be able to tackle increasingly complex data. They also will be able to critically evaluate robustness of risk predictions and assess the socio-economic costs of environmental damage. PRORISK will allow the ESRs to develop the critical capability to synthesize processes across different levels of biological organization and different mechanistic, ecosystem and socio-economical concepts. This will empower ESRs to shape future regulatory missions protecting the ecosystems services and assuring thus sustainability of ecosystem services and prosperity long beyond the PRORISK project.

Antimicrobial chitosan-nanocomposites for biomedical applications: efficiency and safety, 2020-2024.

Personal Research Funding, PRG749

Leader: Dr. K. Kasemets

Nanotechnologies open new possibilities for the creation of efficient and safe antimicrobials for biomedical applications, e.g., wound-dressing materials and implants that enable to reduce/avoid microbial infections and the formation of antibiotic-resistant strains. We aim to create chitosan nanocomposites (CS-NCs) with dual synergistic properties by combining antimicrobial properties of Ag and CuO nanoparticles with immune-stimulating properties of chitosan. We (i) synthesize libraries of CS NCs, (ii) test their antimicrobial potency to pathogenic bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus, S. epidermidis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Escherichia coli) and fungi (Candida sp), including antibiotic-resistant strains, (iii) evaluate safety to human fibroblasts, keratinocytes, endothelial cells and macrophages, and pro-inflammatory response in vitro, and (iv) link the biological effects with physicochemical properties of CS-NCs. Most optimal CS-NCs will be structurally analyzed with NMR and assessed for safety using the EpiDerm 3D in vitro skin model, to identify CS-NCs with the highest efficiency and minimum adverse side effects to human.

Nanocomposite Engineered Particles for Phosphorus Recovery and Toxicological Risk Assessment for the Aquatic Environment, 1.09.2020−27.12.2024.


Principal investigator: Dr. A. Drenkova-Tuhtan
Leader at NICPB: Dr. A. Kahru
Senior staff at NICPB: MSc H. Vija, Dr V. Auoja, Dr M. Sihtmäe, Dr I. Blinova

Phosphorus (P) is an essential nutrient and a key element for agriculture and global food security. Phosphate rock, however, is a finite resource included in the list of critical raw materials for the European Union. Moreover, the remaining reserves have an increasing content of toxic impurities and are concentrated only in a few countries worldwide, leading to a strong import dependency for the nations with resource deficits. Nevertheless, large quantities of phosphorus are present in wastewater and agricultural runoff, representing an untapped secondary source of the valuable nutrient. Engineered nanostructured materials, predominantly metal oxide/hydroxide particles, have been frequently reported as excellent adsorbents for phosphorus in wastewater. However, the uncertainty regarding possible ecotoxicological hazards arising from the application of these materials has opened new research gaps. The main goal of the EU-funded project NanoPhosTox is to test the ecological impact of several promising new nanocomposite P-absorbent particles and optimize their composition to exclude any environmental risks. The potential ecotoxicological hazards will be assessed following OECD and ISO test protocols for ecotoxicity, such as Vibrio fischeri, Algae and Daphnia assays. Ensuring that the materials and their precursors are environmentally friendly will help progress towards commercial application of these promising new P-adsorbents.

European Network for diagnosis and treatment of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections (EURESTOP),  2022-2026.

COST CA21145

MC member: Kaja Kasemets

More information from COST.

3RS Concepts to Improve the Quality of Biomedical Science (IMPROVE), 2022-2026.

COST CA21139

MC member: Anne Kahru

More information from COST.

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