Tina Buerki-Thurnherr

Session: Nanotechnology

Friday, October, 1st, 2021, 1:30pm – 3:00pm

Unravelling structure-activity relationships of nanomaterials at the human placenta

Empa – Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, St. Gallen, Switzerland


Nanomaterial safety is of key relevance for their sustainable production and use in commercial, industrial and especially medical applications. While safety assessment often centers on healthy individuals, our understanding on the impact of nanomaterials on vulnerable populations is scarce. The pregnant women and her developing child are particularly sensitive to toxic compounds and particles. Damage to the fetus can occur directly from particles that cross the placental barrier or indirectly from particles that accumulate in maternal and placental tissue and induce the release of mediators.

We aim to gain new mechanistic insights on direct and indirect fetotoxicity of nanomaterials focusing on the accumulation, translocation and biological effects of different nanoparticles at the human placental barrier. Since the placenta is the most species-specific mammalian organ, we develop and use advanced human in vitro models (e.g. co-culture transfer model, 3D placental microtissues, ex vivo placenta perfusion) to achieve predictive results. In my talk, I will present an overview on our work on placental uptake and transport of nanomaterials in dependence on particle properties and their colloidal stability in biological media. Moreover, I will show new lines of evidences for indirect fetotoxicity of nanomaterials including their interference with endocrine, inflammatory and vascular signaling from the placental tissue.

Overall, our studies highlight the need for intensified studies on direct and indirect developmental toxicity of nanomaterials as a prerequisite to establish the groundwork for a sound risk assessment of nanomaterials and their safe and sustainable use in consumer and medical products.


Dr. Tina Buerki-Thurnherr is a biologist with a PhD from ETH Zurich (2006). She continued her scientific career at Empa, where she is leading the Particles@Barriers group since 2015. She has extensive expertise in the safety assessment of nanomaterials in various cell types as well as in the development and use of advanced biobarrier models (ex vivo and in vitro co-culture and 3D microtissue models) for mechanistic studies on nanomaterial uptake, translocation and biological effects. She was investigator and/or co-applicant in several projects founded by the EU (NANOMMUNE, MARINA, NANOSOLUTIONS, GRAPHENE FLAGSHIP) and BMBF (NanoUmwelt) and is principal investigator of a recently granted Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) project.




Label-Free Detection of Uptake, Accumulation, and Translocation of Diesel Exhaust Particles in Ex Vivo Perfused Human Placenta

Gold nanoparticle distribution in advanced in vitro and ex vivo human placental barrier models

In vivo three-photon microscopy of subcortical structures of an intact mouse brain