Microplastics and Human Health Consortium (MOMENTUM)
The use of plastic products, including packaging material, textiles, and rubber tires, can result in the release of tiny plastic particles in the environment. These tiny plastic particles, known as micro- and nanoplastics (MNPs), are increasingly found in our environment, including drinking water and food. However, we know little about the exact exposure to these MNPs and their potential human health risks. Recent research, performed with the ZonMW programme Microplastics and Health, shows that MNPs from our environment can end up in the human body and could possibly affect our immune system, for example.
The current project, MOMENTUM, builds on these recent findings and aims to unravel the human health effects of MNPs and propose solutions to minimise their potential health impact. Methods will be developed to analyse MNPs and measure internal human exposure. Also, it will be studied if MNPs can cross internal barriers of the lung, intestine, brain, and placenta. Furthermore, the novel research on unravelling the effects of MNPs on our immune system will be continued, which will include research on pathogens, like bacteria and viruses, which can be associated to MNPs. The acquired knowledge will contribute to a thoroughly integrated approach for predicting and preventing possible human health effects of exposure to MNPs.
MOMENTUM brings together researchers from universities, medical centres, research organisations, and private enterprises. MOMENTUM will increase knowledge on the formation and characterisation of MNPs and will develop a roadmap to comprehensive risk assessment of MNPs. The innovations in MOMENTUM will form the basis for solution sets to minimize potential health risks and will therefore reach far beyond the 3 year duration of the project.
MOMENTUM is initiated by ZonMw to follow up the 15 successful breakthrough projects. It is funded by ZonMw, the top sector Life Sciences & Health, the ministries of IenW and VWS, with co-financing from the consortium.
Results year 1
Workpackage 1: MNP formation and characterisation
We have created reference MNPs, which can be used in the course of the project. These MNPs are composed of different materials and range in size, so the materials and sizes of these MNPs can be compared. Also, an approach has been developed to form MNPs from large(r) plastics under the influence of UV light and increased temperature. It has been demonstrated that microorgansims can degrade different types of plastics. Furthermore, a variety of bacteria were collected from plastics in the environment and will be identified. The characterization of all MNPs is ongoing.
Workpackage 2: Measurement of MNPs in human matrices
Analytical methods for measuring MNPs in human matrices, like blood, are being finalised.
Workpackage 3: MNP translocation over internal barriers
Different cell models have been set up in the lab for lungs and intestines. The preliminary results indicate that MNP translocation in intestinal models is limited. In another intestinal model, no differences in MNP translocation were observed in intestinal tissues from different segments of the intestine.
Workpackage 4: Immunological hazards of MNP exposure
Different lung and intestinal models have been developed and set-up. In one of these lung models, the first results show that different MNPs affect this lung model. In intestinal models, MNPs have also been found to affect function and inflammation. Some preliminary results show that immune cells can take up MNPs.
Workpackage 5: Hazards of MNP-associated pathogens
Based on a literature study, relevant pathogens present on MNPs in the environment that could be taken up via the lungs or the intestines were identified.
Workpackage 6: MNP risk assessment roadmap
A start has been made with the risk assessment roadmap by selecting literature and making a general overview of existing information on MNPs. Moreover, a number of discussions within MOMENTUM have taken place about the experimental challenges, leading to some important decisions to enhance the relevance and reliability of the data.
Workpackage 7: Solutions
A user group committee has been formed, and a leader has been assigned to each solution set.
Summary of the application
Micro- and nanoplastics (MNPs, plastic particles < 5 mm) are increasingly found in our environment and our food, however we know very little about how they are formed and their potential human health risks. This lack of knowledge forms an important barrier to developing and implementing solutions to minimize the potential adverse health impacts of MNPs. Research on MNPs is therefore of high priority in the Dutch Knowledge and Innovation Agenda 2020-2023. In the past year, the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw) funded several ‘breakthrough’ projects of one year duration to research the most urgent knowledge gaps in the field of MNPs and human health. In addition, ZonMW will soon release the national Knowledge Agenda on Microplastics and Health, which outlines the major research gaps in this field. The overarching goal of this project is to build on the momentum gained in the ZonMW breakthrough projects and work towards a long-term public-private-partnership (PPP) that will ultimately form the Dutch National Research Infrastructure on MNPs and Health, using the ZonMW Knowledge Agenda on Microplastics and Health as a basis. Our project, aptly entitled “MOMENTUM,” integrates and accelerates the most promising research developments from fourteen 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 unravel the human health effects of MNPs and to propose solutions to minimize their potential health impact. MOMENTUM expands on the ground-breaking research of the breakthrough projects by further investigation of the potential human health risks following MNP exposure. In particular, approaches will be developed to measure internal human exposure and further elucidate the kinetics of MNPs crossing internal barriers of the lung, intestine, brain and placenta. We will also continue our novel research on unravelling the immunological hazards of exposure to plastic particles and MNP-associated pathogens. We 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 minimize potential health risks, and a long-term R&D strategy lasting beyond the three year duration of the project. MOMENTUM seeks to inspire the academic and medical world, government, and industry to develop new understanding of the MNP pollution problem. MOMENTUM brings together researchers from eight Dutch universities and medical centres, four research organisations and fourteen international partners from small, medium and large private enterprises. The MOMENTUM consortium has expertise in a wide range of disciplines, including polymer and analytical chemistry, exposome sciences, materials sciences, toxicology, immunology, medical sciences, virology, microbiology, bioengineering, environmental sciences, and risk assessment, ensuring an original, interdisciplinary mix of researchers who will work together for the first time to tackle this challenge. This will create synergism that will fuel both the fundamental research and the evidence that can be translated towards the benefit of society.