An Experimental and Computational Approach to the Development of ZnO Nanoparticles that are Safe by Design

Tu Le, Hong Yin, Rui Chen, Yandong Chen, Lin Zhao, Phillip Casey, Chunying Chen, David Alan Winkler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


Zinc oxide nanoparticles have found wide application due to their unique optoelectronic and photocatalytic characteristics. However, their safety aspects remain of critical concern, prompting the use of physicochemical modifications of pristine ZnO to reduce any potential toxicity. However, the relationships between these modifications and their effects on biology are complex and still relatively unexplored. To address this knowledge gap, a library of 45 types of ZnO nanoparticles with varying particle size, aspect ratio, doping type, doping concentration, and surface coating is synthesized, and their biological effects measured. Three biological assays measuring cell damage or stress are used to study the responses of human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) or human hepatocellular liver carcinoma cells (HepG2) to the nanoparticles. These experimental data are used to develop quantitative and predictive computational models linking nanoparticle properties to cell viability, membrane integrity, and oxidative stress. It is found that the concentration of nanoparticles the cells are exposed to, the type of surface coating, the nature and extent of doping, and the aspect ratio of the particles make significant contributions to the cell toxicity of the nanoparticles tested. Our study shows that it is feasible to generate models that could be used to design or optimize nanoparticles with commercially useful properties that are also safe to humans and the environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3568-3577
Number of pages10
Issue number26
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016


  • cytotoxicity
  • nanotoxicology
  • oxidative stress
  • physicochemical modifications
  • QSAR, zinc oxide nanoparticles


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