$1.53 million NIH R01 grant to study food additive exposure

The study will look at how the nanoparticles we consume may be affecting the way our gut functions.

Associate Professor Gretchen Mahler from the Department of Biomedical Engineering, who was recently promoted to Associate Dean of the Graduate School, and Assistant Professor Cláudia Marques from the Department of Biological Sciences will collaborate on a $1.53 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Their study is titled, “Engineering a Small Intestinal Microbiome to Evaluate Food Additive Exposure.”

They will look at how the nanoparticles we consume may be affecting the way our gut functions.

“Nanomaterials are increasingly used in consumer products, processed food and food packaging, but few studies have determined the consequences of nanoparticle ingestion,” explained Mahler. “The ultimate goal of this work is to determine if and how ingested metal oxide nanoparticles alter microorganism populations and intestinal function.”

Mahler and her team believe that chronic exposure or high doses of nanomaterials can alter the small intestine’s structure and result in a decrease in nutrient absorption.

The study will collect data on a broad variety of nanomaterials and how they interact with the human body. Mahler said this will give other scientists a way to test the interactions of consumed nanomaterials and the human gastrointestinal cells for other safety, policy and regulatory purposes.

She also hopes that once their study is complete, this information will be made available to consumers who will want to know the side effects of nanomaterials in their food and food packaging.

The project is scheduled to last until 2023.