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Nanoparticles reduce nickel allergy by capturing metal ions


Approximately 10% of the population in the USA1,2 suffer from nickel allergy3,4,5, and many are unable to wear jewellery or handle coins and other objects that contain nickel6,7,8,9,10. Many agents have been developed to reduce the penetration of nickel through skin11,12, but few formulations are safe and effective13,14,15. Here, we show that applying a thin layer of glycerine emollient containing nanoparticles of either calcium carbonate or calcium phosphate on an isolated piece of pig skin (in vitro) and on the skin of mice (in vivo) prevents the penetration of nickel ions into the skin. The nanoparticles capture nickel ions by cation exchange, and remain on the surface of the skin, allowing them to be removed by simple washing with water. Approximately 11-fold fewer nanoparticles by mass are required to achieve the same efficacy as the chelating agent ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid. Using nanoparticles with diameters smaller than 500 nm in topical creams may be an effective way to limit the exposure to metal ions that can cause skin irritation.

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Figure 1: Capture efficiency of nickel and other metals by CaCO3 and CaPO4 nanoparticles.
Figure 2: Thin coating of CaCO3 or CaPO4 nanoparticles prevents penetration of nickel ions into the skin.
Figure 3: In vitro experiment using isolated pig skin.
Figure 4: In vivo nickel challenge experiments.


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The authors thank A. Kimball from the Massachusetts General Hospital for helpful discussions. This work was funded by start-up funds from the Brigham and Women's Hospital (J.M.K.). P.K.V. acknowledges the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for an entrepreneur postdoctoral fellowship. The authors also thank D. Blankschtein and B. Polat for the generous gift of pigskin, as well as the MIT Center for Material Science Engineering Imaging facility and P. Boisvert for assistance, and S. Sonis for valuable discussions.

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P.K.V. and J.M.K. conceived and designed the experiments, analysed the data and co-wrote the manuscript. R.R.A. helped design the experiments and write the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jeffrey M. Karp.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Vemula, P., Anderson, R. & Karp, J. Nanoparticles reduce nickel allergy by capturing metal ions. Nature Nanotech 6, 291–295 (2011).

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