Nanoplastics study receives $1 million grant

A new study of the effects of nanoplastics on human nervous, immune, and reproductive systems has received a $1 million grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) and Environment and Climate Change Canada’s (ECCC) Plastics science for a cleaner future program.

Professor Daniel G. Cyr of Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), who won the grant, will be among the first to research this issue.

The health impacts of products used to make plastic, such as phthalates, bisphenol, and polystyrene, have previously been studied. However, few toxicological studies have assessed the risk of exposure to nanoplastics. These tiny pieces of plastic can be found everywhere in the environment, including in food and drinking water.

The effects of inflammation

This research will allow Professor Cyr and research teams from INRS, Canadian and Brazilian universities, Health Canada, and Environment and Climate Change Canada to assess how these contaminants affect the body’s inflammatory response.

“Increased inflammation is linked to several neurodegenerative diseases, imbalanced immune responses, and altered fertility,” said Cyr.

“Unlike chemicals emanating from plastics which are rapidly metabolized, plastic fragments could have long-term consequences.”

Inflammation affects the proteins responsible for the integrity of critical protective barriers of several biological systems. For example, the blood-brain barrier, prevents contaminants in the blood from reaching cells within the brain.

“The proposed multidisciplinary approach will allow us to assess the risks and determine the causes and consequences of inflammation on different physiological systems,” said Cyr.

“We will then be able to formulate hypotheses regarding the mechanisms of action of nanoplastics.” In addition to the effects of plastics, the research will provide a better understanding of the consequences of inflammation on various biological systems.

An international study

Over the next four years, Cyr will collaborate with scientists from Canada and Brazil. At INRS, professors Krista Heinonen, Simona Stäger, Albert Descoteaux, Alain Lamarre, and Stéphane Lefrançois are collaborating in the research.

Scientists from McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario, the University of Ottawa, Health Canada, and Environment and Climate Change Canada will also contribute their expertise. Brazilian reproductive toxicology experts from Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP) in São Paulo State and Universidade Federal Rural do Semi-Árido in Mossoró will study transgenerational effects of plastics.

The group is currently recruiting undergraduate and graduate students to work in Canada and Brazil starting this summer.

INRS was established in 1969 as a university dedicated exclusively to graduate level research and training. It is made up of four interdisciplinary research and training centres in Québec City, Montréal, Laval, and Varennes, with expertise in strategic sectors: Eau Terre Environnement, Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications, Urbanisation Culture Société, and Armand-Frappier Santé Biotechnologie. The INRS community includes more than 1,500 students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty members, and staff.