Engineered nanomaterials (ENM) are used extensively in food products to fulfill a number of roles, including enhancement of color and texture, for nutritional fortification, enhanced bioavailability, improved barrier properties of packaging, and enhanced food preservation. Safety assessment of ingested engineered nanomaterials (iENM) has gained interest in the nanotoxicology community in recent years. A variety of test systems and approaches have been used for such evaluations, with in vitro monoculture cell models being the most common test systems, owing to their low cost and ease-of-use. The goal of this review is to systematically assess the current state of science in toxicological testing of iENM, with particular emphasis on model test systems, their physiological relevance, methodological strengths and challenges, realistic doses (ranges and rates), and then to identify future research needs and priorities based on these assessments.
Extensive searches were conducted in Google Scholar, PubMed and Web of Science to identify peer-reviewed literature on safety assessment of iENM over the last decade, using keywords such as "nanoparticle", "food", "toxicity", and combinations thereof. Relevant literature was assessed based on a set of criteria that included the relevance of nanomaterials tested; ENM physicochemical and morphological characterization; dispersion and dosimetry in an in vitro system; dose ranges employed, the rationale and dose realism; dissolution behavior of iENM; endpoints tested, and the main findings of each study. Observations were entered into an excel spreadsheet, transferred to Origin, from where summary statistics were calculated to assess patterns, trends, and research gaps.
A total of 650 peer-reviewed publications were identified from 2007 to 2017, of which 39 were deemed relevant. Only 21% of the studies used food grade nanomaterials for testing; adequate physicochemical and morphological characterization was performed in 53% of the studies. All in vitro studies lacked dosimetry and 60% of them did not provide a rationale for the doses tested and their relevance. Only 12% of the studies attempted to consider the dissolution kinetics of nanomaterials. Moreover, only 1 study attempted to prepare and characterize standardized nanoparticle dispersions.
We identified 5 clusters of factors deemed relevant to nanotoxicology of food-grade iENM: (i) using food-grade nanomaterials for toxicity testing; (ii) performing comprehensive physicochemical and morphological characterization of iENM in the dry state, (iii) establishing standard NP dispersions and their characterization in cell culture medium, (iv) employing realistic dose ranges and standardized in vitro dosimetry models, and (v) investigating dissolution kinetics and biotransformation behavior of iENM in synthetic media representative of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract fluids, including analyses in a fasted state and in the presence of a food matrix. We discussed how these factors, when not considered thoughtfully, could influence the results and generalizability of in vitro and in vivo testing. We conclude with a set of recommendations to guide future iENM toxicity studies and to develop/adopt more relevant in vitro model systems representative of in vivo animal and human iENM exposure scenarios.