Advances in nanotechnologies over the last years supported the development of nano-sized applications for medical purposes due to their beneficial impact on detection, imaging and treatment of diseases. However, new human health hazards may emerge from nano-medicine, also for researchers, physicians and all healthcare workers who may become primarily exposed to such xenobiotics during their job tasks. The aim of this work is to discuss promising solutions provided by nanotechnology in medical fields, with a specific focus on critical aspects and research needs for occupational risk assessment and management in this emerging field.Methods
Pubmed, Scopus and ISI Web of Science databases were searched to identify studies addressing potential applications of nanoscale science, and technology for medical aims with attention focused on emerging occupational risks.Results
Favourable optical and chemical nanomaterial properties may enhance medical imaging, as well as molecular and gene diagnostics. Nano-carriers may improve bioavailability, and tissue specificity of drugs. Nanomaterials proved anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties, increased sensitivity to radiation therapy, and supported tissue repair. However, hazard identification of nano-medical formulations, exposure assessment, risk characterisation in lab and clinical settings, and possible risk management strategies for exposed workers resulted still almost unexplored.Discussion
Despite the many proposed advantages for nano-medical innovations, occupational risk assessment and management processes may take advantage from further research aimed to define the toxicological profile of differently characterised nano-formulations, to assess qualitative and quantitative exposure aspects related to the different phases of application, in ordinary work conditions and in case of accidental contacts, to identify biological exposure and early effect indicators to be potentially employed in well-organised health surveillance programs. Overall, this review highlights the importance to define adequate precautionary risk management strategies for workers, and occupational safety practices and policies, in order to develop a responsible consensus on nanotechnology in medicine.