The technology, outlined in peer-reviewed journal ACS Nano, can analyse large batches of nanomaterials based on their ability to trigger certain biological responses in cells as a result of their semiconductor properties.
Nanomaterials are used in sunscreen and cosmetics due to their unique semiconducting properties and the industry is expected to boom, but UCLA states that more needs to be done to ensure the safety of these products.
The researchers screened 24 metal-oxide nanoparticles to determine which were most likely to lead to toxicity under real-life exposure.
Using a high-throughput screening assay they tested the materials on a variety of cell types in a matter of a few hours and found that six of them - those that had previously met the researchers' predictive criteria for being toxic based on their band-gap energy - led to oxidative damage in cells.
The team then tested the nanomaterials in well-orchestrated animal studies and found that only those materials that had led to oxidative damage in cells were capable of generating inflammation in the lungs of mice.
Speaking of its new technology, nanomedicine division chief at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Dr Andre Nel, stated it was a huge step forward in the safety screening of nanomaterials.
Could replace old tests
According to the researchers, this new safety-assessment technology has the potential to replace traditional testing, which is currently performed one material at a time in labor-intensive animal studies.
The new approach and screening technique could speed up the ability to assess large numbers of emerging new nanomaterials rather than waiting for their toxicological potential to become manifest before action is taken.
"Being able to integrate metal-oxide electronic properties into a predictive and high-throughput scientific platform in this work could play an important role in advancing nanomaterial safety testing in the 21st century to a preventative strategy, rather than waiting for problems to emerge," Nel said.