Similarity of multicomponent nanomaterials in a safer-by-design context: the case of core–shell quantum dots†
Concepts of similarity, such as grouping, categorization, and read-across, enable a fast comparative screening of hazard, reducing animal testing. These concepts are established primarily for molecular substances. We demonstrate the development of multi-dimensional similarity assessment methods that can be applied to multicomponent nanomaterials (MCNMs) for the case of core–shell quantum dots (QDs). The term ‘multicomponent’ refers to their structural composition, which consists of up to four different heavy metals (cadmium, zinc, copper, indium) in different mass percentages, with different morphologies and surface chemistries. The development of concepts of similarity is also motivated by the increased need for comparison of innovative against conventional materials in the safe and sustainable by design (SSbD) context. This case study thus considers the industrial need for an informed balance of functionality and safety: we propose two different approaches to compare and rank the case study materials amongst themselves and against well-known benchmark materials, here ZnO NM110, BaSO4 NM220, TiO2 NM105, and CuO. Relative differences in the sample set are calibrated against the biologically relevant range. The choice of properties that are subjected to similarity assessment is guided by the integrated approaches to testing and assessment (IATA) for the inhalation hazard of simple nanomaterials, which recommends characterizing QDs by (i) dynamic dissolution in lung simulant fluids and (ii) the surface reactivity in the abiotic ferric reducing ability of serum (FRAS) assay. In addition, the similarity of fluorescence spectra was assessed as a measure of the QD performance for the intended functionality as a color converter. We applied two approaches to evaluate the data matrix: in the first approach, specific descriptors for each assay (i.e., leachable mass (%) and mass based biological oxidative damage (mBOD)) were selected based on expert knowledge and used as input data for generation of similarity matrices. The second approach introduces the possibility of evaluating multidimensional raw data by a meaningful similarity analysis, without the need for predefined descriptors. We discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each of the two approaches. We anticipate that the similarity assessment approach is transferable to the assessment of further advanced materials (AdMa) that are composed of multiple components.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Advanced Materials