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Scientists gather for ‘All Things Inhalable’

Date: 06/11/2017

In a week dedicated to a mixed bag of everything inhalable, the 12th instalment of Inhaled Particles was brought to Glasgow by the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS). The Series has a long and illustrious history, starting in Oxford in 1960, and is known to open its doors to all particles, and endeavours to cover the breadth of disciplines assessing the risks and hazards associated with the inhalation of particles.

The Chairs of the Organising and Scientific Committees, Dr Craig Poland of Edinburgh University, and Prof. Vicki Stone of Heriot Watt University respectively, sought to uphold this tradition but also bring a new focus to the proceedings with a clear outlook to the future by highlighting new issues and developments in techniques and analysis, with a keen emphasis on contributions from new researchers.

The Inhaled Particles conference has always allowed for a dynamic interface between disciplines, and this year was no exception, with a melting pot of toxicology, exposure science and epidemiology. Often prominent in the debates and discussions were issues surrounding future strategies and developments within the field to aid our capacity to assess risk. This included descriptions of online libraries of particle exposure scenarios to online detection methods for toxicological outcomes, through to tools developed to model nano-specific inhalation exposure and models to predict aerosol particle characteristics or biological responses.

The use of realistic exposure systems was a topic echoed throughout the week, including the Harvard Ultrafine Concentrator of Ambient Particle System (HUCAPS), as well as numerous talks on methods which couple an aerosol directly with in vitro systems, including a presentation by PhD student Gail Drummond of the University of Hertfordshire, who is examining various methods of air-liquid interface (ALI) exposure systems by studying the impact of different ALI cell choices and different ways of delivering the aerosols. SAFENANO has previously highlighted ALI systems, in which we introduced another novel in vitro inhalation exposure system, emphasising the importance of these systems for the future.

The session on low-toxicity particles concluded with an eagerly anticipated debate surrounding the recent, and arguably contentious, decision of ECHA’s Committee for Risk Assessment to classify TiO2 as suspected of causing cancer (Category 2 Carcinogen) through the inhalation route; a material with incredibly diverse and wide-ranging applications, which has often been used in toxicology as a low-toxicity particle control. Playing as advocates ‘for-and-against’ this classification, Dr Tom Gebel and Dr David Warheit, respectively, both gave convincing arguments, which resulted in what many may have considered an unexpectedly close outcome when delegates voted, with those against the classification leading by only eight votes.

IOM scientists have contributed to every Inhaled Particles conference in the series. This year saw Dr Miranda Loh give a keynote talk on ‘Respiratory Protection from Workplace to Beyond’, as well presentations from Dr Araceli Sanchez, Thomas Winski, and Dr Matthew Boyles presenting his research on the toxicity of man-made vitreous fibres, which was conducted at Heriot Watt University prior to him joining the IOM earlier this year.

When summing up, the conference’s Scientific Committee Chair, Prof. Stone found the interactive debate surrounding ECHA’s TiO2 classification to be a highlight of the week and described it as “lively, with lots of interesting questions from delegates and a very interesting outcome”. Furthermore, Prof. Stone acknowledged that it was “great to see so many new and old personalities interacting and taking the field forward”, highlighting the importance of encouraging young researchers in the field, many of whom were given an opportunity to present their work, with two PhD students, Ines Tomašek and Artur Filipe Rodrigues, both received accolades.

As a final word, although the sobering acknowledgement of air pollution levels throughout the world weighed heavily during the conference, the closing keynote presentation by Prof. David Pui of the University of Minnesota lifted spirits with his solution for mitigating PM2.5 pollutants in urban air by means of enormous building-sized filtration systems run by solar-power! The work described by Prof. Pui is likely to be a highlight for many who attended, as it was a fitting end embracing the theme of the conference and endorsing the need for solutions to understand and tackle the challenges we face from inhaled particles.

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Did you know?

4 µm is the median aerodynamic diameter of particles that fall within the respirable size range.