Microplastics are all around us on the land, in the sea and even in the air. It is known that they are harmful to the environment. However, we still know very little about the effect of microplastics on the human body and our health. ZonMw identifies the gaps in our knowledge, funds research and encourages the use of the research results.

How do microplastics end up in the body?

There are various types of microplastics. These are produced when plastic breaks down or is shredded, and they differ in shape, size and composition. Micro-organisms and chemical substances can adhere to the microplastics and therefore accumulate in our body. Plastic particles enter our body via the air that we breathe, our food and via the water that we drink.

Microplastics in body

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Current research in microplastics

Results of short-term breakout projects

The first 15 short-term breakout projects in the programme Microplastics & Health that started in March 2019 have been completed. Read in our news item of 24th March 2022 that the research team from VU Amsterdam and Amsterdam UMC, location VUmc, has demonstrated for the first time that small plastic particles from our living environment are present in the human circulatory system.

More information of the 15 projects can be found in the project proposals and the first results presented in 2019. In these projects, the focus was on obtaining insight into the effects of small plastic particles in cells and tissues, and whether such particles could penetrate our body. It was likewise investigated whether the particles cause mechanical damage and whether they can also carry harmful substances and micro organisms. The studies were made possible by funding from NWO, the Gieskes-Strijbis Fund and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. The programme has an international programme committee.

In this article you can read about the results presented by the researchers during the online symposium that ZonMw and the MOMENTUM consortium organised on 4 November 2021. Most of the 15 breakthrough projects have joined forces to continue in the MOMENTUM consortium. This publication provides a recap of the online symposium.

Microplastics and Human Health Consortium (MOMENTUM)

In addition, the MOMENTUM project has started within the programme Microplastics & Health as well. This research was initiated by ZonMw to offer the successful breakthrough projects a follow-up. The project is a consortium and is funded by ZonMw, the Top Sector Life Sciences & Health, TNO, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport together with co-funding from the consortium. This consortium consists of universities, university medical centres, research organisations, companies and other relevant stakeholders. In May 2022, an additional 500,000 euros was made available by the Ministries of Infrastructure and Water Management and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport for the MOMENTUM research project.

The aim of the MOMENTUM consortium is to determine the effects of micro- and nanoplastic particles on human health and, ultimately, prevent these effects. With this consortium, a first step can be taken in this direction. The consortium is laying the basis for the necessary follow-up research described in a knowledge agenda.

Knowledge agenda Microplastics & Health

As a follow-up to the current programme Microplastics & Health, the knowledge agenda Microplastics & Health has been produced. In this knowledge agenda, the most important knowledge gaps are described and a call is made for further research into the topic, in addition to the 15 breakthrough projects and the MOMENTUM project. Together with other funding bodies, we are making an important first step in the right direction for solution-oriented follow-up research. The knowledge agenda offers an overview of the knowledge questions inspired by policy, research and practice, and identifies promising research directions and innovations. The knowledge agenda is being developed into a new programme.

Where to find additional information?

In 2019, we highlighted the fact that there is a lack of knowledge about the health effects of microplastics. This is why we started the research programme Microplastics & Health. With this programme, we have funded 15 short-term breakthrough projects and the MOMENTUM project. We will disseminate the results from these projects among stakeholders to encourage the use of the acquired knowledge, which will in turn give rise to new research questions. As a follow-up to this programme, we presented a knowledge agenda in 2021 that describes new knowledge gaps.

Would you like to receive more information about microplastics and health? Then please contact us via microplasticsHealth@zonmw.nl.

Relevant links

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