In preparation of the Microplastic & Health call for research proposals the concept call text went on-line for feedback. It was an open invitation for any stakeholders to participate. The aim of the consultation was to improve the quality of the call in terms of relevance to knowledge gaps and a way in which to adjust the call to the current state of scientific knowledge.
The responses to the internet consultation are under consideration and if possible will be incorporated in the final call text. Respondents were mainly researchers with a toxicology or (marine)ecology background. In addition to Dutch researchers, there were responses from Germany, Norway, Austria, America, Sweden and Monaco. There was clear consensus on various aspects of the concept call, as well as room for improvement on other aspects. The internet consultation was a valuable and easily accessible way to include international expertise in particular in the call text.
All contributors agreed that research into microplastics and possible health effects is desperately needed. The general aim of the call is as should be. The knowledge gaps and sub-aims need to be more specific in some ways, and opened up in other ways. There are limited methods available to measure small plastic particles in human matrices. Investing in improved or new measurement techniques is essential. The short project duration of just one year further adds to the challenge. These projects most likely can just make a start to research a particular aspect of the many knowledge gaps identified. It would be of added value if the collective results of projects that are funded could be comparable in some way.
One of the ways in which it might be possible to make projects more comparable is to create unity in plastic particles to be studied. There was quite some discussion over exactly which particles should be studied and what the particle definition should be for this call. Researchers indicated that projects need to investigate real particles from the environment. The difficulty is however that these environmental particles are irregularly shaped, show broad size distributions and a variety of surface properties, depending on their history (e.g. ageing, interaction with dissolved matter, biofilm formation). This wide variety in property characteristics of environmental particles makes this area of research extremely challenging, projects can be expected to be high-risk high-gain with longer term funding needed after proof of concept is achieved.
The final call will be published here on the ZonMw website.