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The potential effect of micro- and nanoplastics on human health

The research conducted in MOMENTUM aims to unravel the potential human health effects of micro- and nanoplastics (MNPs) and to propose solutions to minimise their health impact. The project is led by the Utrecht University, in close collaboration with (amongst others) alliance partners Eindhoven University of Technology, Wageningen University & Research and University Medical Center Utrecht.

Little is known on the effects of micro- and nanoplastics on human health. At the same time, the levels of microplastics in our living environment are expected to increase in the next decades. Human exposure is evident by the detection of microplastics in drinking water, food, air, and in human stools. To what extent the exposure to these plastic particles of varying shape, size and composition are relevant for public health is unclear.

Minimizing potential health impact

In 2019 ZonMw granted fifteen multidisciplinary projects, to jumpstart research in this new field. The MOMENTUM project (2021-2024) integrates and accelerates the most promising research developments from fourteen of these ZonMw breakthrough projects. In co-creation with private sector organisations and in consultation with key stakeholders from academia, government, industry and citizen organisations, the research conducted in MOMENTUM aims to analyse the problem (what are the human health effects of MNPs?) and the solutions (how to minimise their potential health impact?).

Roadmap to solutions

In particular, the researchers will develop approaches to measure internal human exposure and further elucidate the kinetics of MNPs crossing internal barriers of the lung, intestine, brain and placenta. They will also continue their novel research on unravelling the immunological hazards of exposure to plastic particles and MNP-associated pathogens.

Experts from various disciplines are involved. For example, UMC Utrecht leads the work package Hazard assessment, WUR leads the work package Transport of microplastics over barriers and TU Eindhoven the work package Developing a lung on a chip model.

The team will go beyond the current ZonMw breakthrough projects by increasing knowledge on the formation and characterisation of MNPs, and by developing a roadmap to comprehensive risk assessment of MNPs. The innovations in MOMENTUM will form the basis for solution sets to minimise potential health risks, and a long-term R&D strategy lasting beyond the three year duration of the project.