Professor Richard Handy

Professor Richard Handy


School of Biological and Marine Sciences (Faculty of Science and Engineering)


Professor of Environmental Toxicology


Academic Qualifications
BSc. (Hons) Biological Sciences (University of Birmingham)
Ph.D University of Dundee.
Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
Fellow of the Society of Biology

Professional membership

Learned Societies

I am currently a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, and a member of The Society of Authors.

I have been regularly associated with the following learned societies:
Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC)
President of UK branch 2001-2003 & Council member. President UK branch, 2006-7. Past-president and council member 2007-8. Council member 2009.

Society for Experimental Biology (SEB)
Animal Section Committee member and session organiser for the SEB for many years.
Secretary of the Animal Section 2005-2008.

In vitro Toxicology Society.
Fisheries Society of the British Isles

Roles on external bodies

Professor Handy has served on many international working groups and scientific committees; most recently on nanomaterials for the OECD, US NNI, and founder member of the UK Nanotechnology task force working on aspects of ecotoxicology. He also advises on animal welfare and alternative techniques, and is expert on whole animal biology. 

Teaching interests

All areas of comparative and clinical physiology, clinical and environmental toxicology. Types of modules include:-

Comparative Animal Physiology (Stages 1-3)
Toxicology and body systems physiology (Stage 1-3)
Physiology & Pathophysiology (Stage 2) 
Ecotoxicology (Stage 3)
Regulatory Toxicology and Clinical Trials (Stage 3)
Fish Toxicology (Masters level modules)

Staff serving as external examiners

Professor Handy is an experienced examiner, and for example, he has examined PhDs from countries around the world, in addition to the UK.

Research interests

LAST UP DATED 12th February 2019

Our current research activities are focused on the following topics:

1. The eco/toxicity of nanomaterials

Nanotechnology is defined as using materials and structures with nanoscale dimensions, usually in the range 1-100 nm, although for toxicological applications we also consider larger aggregates of nanomaterials (reviews Handy and Shaw, 2007; Handy et al., 2008a; Klaine et al., 2008; Lead et al., 2018; Handy et al., 2018). Our laboratory was the first to give detailed reports of the body systems effects and organ pathologies from nanomaterial exposures in fish (Smith et al., 2007; Federici et al., 2007), and we work with a range of materials includes carbon nanotubes, fullerenes, and a range of metal nanoparticles (e.g., copper, silver, iron) and metal oxides (eg., TiO2, CuO). We have also reported through several NERC funded project investigating the effects of nanomaterials on the brain of fishes, and several projects looking at histopathology in different organs (invertebrates, fish, mammals). We also have a special interest in the uptake mechanisms of nanomaterials across the gut (fish and rodents). Our work includes very applied aspects such as developing methods for the hazard assessment of nanomaterials (Crane et al., 2008; Handy et al., 2012a,b) and the bioavailability of metal nanoparticles (review, Shaw and Handy, 2011).

2. The safety of nanomaterials in dentistry and medicine

Our clinical work includes research into the mechanisms of intestinal absorption and ingestion hazard from nanomaterials. This includes using intestinal cell cultures (Gitrowski et al., 2014), ex-vivo gut sacs (Clark et al., 2019), and considering the digestibility/bioavailability of nanomaterials in the gut lumen (Vassallo et al., 2019). Our work on dental materials hopes to deliver stronger, more biocompatible, and also antimicrobial implants. The work has explored the antimicrobial (Besinis et al., 2014) and antifungal (Meran et al., 2018) properties of nanomaterials, as well as the approaches to make biomaterials more compatible with living tissue with nanoscale hydroxyapatite. This includes work on bone implants. These activities in both environmental and medical aspects of nanoscience are part of a strategic plan for nanoscience research at the University of Plymouth, and the broader strategy for Environment and Human Health with collaborating institutions in the region and internationally. Our researchers are therefore at the forefront of this relatively new and exciting area.

3. Dietary exposure to metals and other contaminants.

This is a long standing theme of our research, and our philosophy is to understand the mechanisms of how toxic metals cross the gut epithelium of vertebrate animals (fish, rats, humans). We have produced several important reviews on metal uptake and toxicity in the gut of fish (Handy, 1996; Handy, 2005a;b), and more recently on nano metals (above). Our approach includes in vivo investigations of whole animal physiology to understand the integrated responses of animals to dietary exposure. We have used fish models to detail everything from biochemistry and organ pathologies to animal behaviour. These include the first reports detailing the disruption of biological rhythms and aggressive behaviours in trout exposed to excess dietary Cu (Campbell et al., 2002; 2005) and the underlying neuropathology and endocrine disruption causing these effects (Handy, 1992). We have also investigated adverse effects of copper or mercury on nutritional performance, osmoregulation and oxidative stress in vivo, and in a range of freshwater fish (trout, nile tilapia, and African walking catfish, e.g. Handy and Shaw 2006; Hoyle et al., 2007).  Fish are becoming increasingly important models in toxicology, and this work also includes studies on the genes involved in metal uptake. Our work has enabled quantitative risk calculations in relation to food safety and dietary exposure of humans to contaminated fish, as well as the risks to the fish themselves from contaminated aquafeeds (e.g. Hoyle et al., 2007; Glover et al., 2007). We have also explored life style effects (chronic high fat and high protein diets) on the immunotoxicity of pesticides, and in a rodent model, show that these life style factors can make pesticide pathologies much worse (Handy et al., 2002a).


4. Alternative Techniques: Perfused Organ Systems

We also recognise the ethical concerns about whole animal physiology and toxicology, and the needs for reduction, refinement and replacement (the 3Rs). Our laboratory has long standing expertise in the use of organ perfusion systems for metal research. We have pioneered improvements to the perfused gill preparation (Campbell et al., 1999), and used the perfused intestine to give the first detailed pharmacological description of Cu uptake in the intestine (Handy et al., 2000b; 2002). We have also described how the vertebrate intestinal cells absorb mercury (Hoyle et al., 2005). We have also used the perfused rat heart to understand novel mechanisms of carbon monoxide toxicity (Patel et al., 2004) and the regulation of magnesium in the heart (Ödblom and Handy., 1999). Our laboratory has a range of other perfused organ and cell culture methods for fish and mammalian cells. Professor Handy has cultured gill, intestine, liver, and spleen cells from fish, and similar cells from rodents, and cardiac myocytes.


5. Body systems toxicology

Our approach of understanding mechanisms inevitably also has a body system focus. We therefore have looked at some systems in great detail including;

  • Immunotoxicity of metals and pesticides (invertebrates, fish, rodents).
  • Gastro-intestinal physiology and pathology of metals (fish, rats, humans)
  • Cardiotoxicity of metals, and more recently, nanomaterials (rats, fish).

These include in vivo and in vitro experiments using the tools and techniques outlined above. These studies are supported mainly by PhD Studentships. All of the above work includes some detailed oxidative stress chemistry in these organ systems, and this is a core theme in the wider research group. Professor Handy also has a special interest in histological techniques.

Other research

Consultancy via the University of Plymouth
Professor Handy is an expert on the technical details of hazard assessment, and on risk assessment for the environment. He has had consultancy work in this area from government departments, the EU commission and chemical companies.

Prof. Handy has broad interests in comparative aspects of toxicology and the interface between biology and medicine.

Recent Publications: Last Updated 12th February 2019

1.    Vassallo, J., Tatsi, K., Boden, R. and Handy, R. D. (2019) Determination of the bioaccessible fraction of cupric oxide nanoparticles in soils using an in vitro human digestibility simulation. Environmental Science Nano, in press.

2.    Clark, N. J., Boyle, D. and Handy, R. D. (2019). An assessment of the dietary bioavailability of silver nanomaterials in rainbow trout using an ex-vivo gut sac technique. Environmental Science: Nano, in press.

3.     Eagles, E.J., Benstead, R., MacDonald, S., Handy, R. D. and Hutchinson, T.H. (2019). Impacts of the mycotoxin zearalenone on growth and photosynthetic responses in laboratory populations of freshwater macrophytes (Lemna minor) and microalgae (Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata). Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, 169, 225-231.

4.    Tatsi, K., Shaw, B. J., Hutchinson, T. H., and Handy, R. D. (2018) Copper accumulation and toxicity in earthworms exposed to CuO nanomaterials: Effects of particle coating and soil ageing. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, 166, 462–473.

5.    Vassallo, J., Besinis, A., Boden, R., and Handy, R. D. (2018) The minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) assay with Escherichia coli: An early tier in the environmental hazard assessment of nanomaterials? Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety,162, 633-646.

6.   Handy, R. D., Ahtiainen, J., Navas, J. M., Goss, G., Bleeker, E. A. J. and von der Kammer, F. (2018) Proposal for a tiered dietary bioaccumulation testing strategy for engineered nanomaterials using fish. Environmental Science: Nano, 5, 2030–2046.

7.   Gunputh, U. F., Le, H. Handy, R. D. and Tredwin, C. (2018) Anodised TiO2 nanotubes as a scaffold for antibacterial silver nanoparticles on titanium  implants. Materials Science & Engineering C, 91, 638-644.

8.   Lead, J. R., Batley, G. E., Alvarez, P. J. J., Croteau, M-N., Handy, R. D., McLaughlin, M. J., Judy, J. D. and Schirmer, K. (2018) Nanomaterials in the environment: Behavior, fate, bioavailability, and effects—An updated review. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 37, 2029–2063.

9.   Clark, N.J., Shaw, B.J. and Handy, R.D. (2018). Low hazard of silver nanoparticles and silver nitrate to the haematopoietic system of rainbow trout. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, 152, 121-131.

10 Boyle, D., Sutton, P. A., Handy, R. D. and Henry, T. B. (2018). Intravenous injection of unfunctionalized carbon-based nanomaterials confirms the minimal toxicity observed in aqueous and dietary exposures in juvenile rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Environmental Pollution, 232, 191-199.

11.Meran, Z., Besinis, A., De Peralta, T., Handy, R. D. (2018) Antifungal properties and biocompatibility of silver nanoparticle coatings on silicone maxillofacial prostheses in vitro. Journal of Biomedical Materials Research: Part B - Applied Biomaterials. 106B, 1038–1051.

12.Rossbach, L. M., Shaw, B. J., Piegza, D., Vevers, W. F., Atfield, A. J. and Handy, R. D. (2017) Sub-lethal effects of waterborne exposure to copper nanoparticles compared to copper sulphate on the shore crab (Carcinus maenas). Aquatic Toxicology 191, 245–255.

13.Besinis, A. Hadi, S. D., Le, H., Tredwin, C. and Handy, R. D. (2017) Antibacterial activity and biofilm inhibition by surface modified titanium alloy medical implants following application of silver, titanium dioxide and hydroxyapatite nanocoatings. Nanotoxicology, 11(3), 327-338.

14.Lusher, A., pope, N. and Handy, R. D. (2017) Reproductive effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals, bisphenol-A and 17ß-oestradiol, on Cerastoderma edule from south-west England: field study and laboratory exposure.  Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 97, 347-357.

15 Shaw, B.J., Liddle, C. C., Windeatt, K. M. and Handy, R. D. (2016) A critical evaluation of the fish early life stage toxicity test for engineered nanomaterials: experimental modifications and recommendations. Archives of Toxicology, 90, 2077–2107.

16.Hund-Rinke, K., Baun, A., Cupi, D., Fernandes, T.F., Handy, R., Kinross, J.H., Navas, J.M., Peijnenburg, W., Schlich, K., Shaw, B.J. and Scott-Fordsmand, J.J. (2016). Regulatory ecotoxicity testing of nanomaterials–proposed modifications of OECD test guidelines based on laboratory experience with silver and titanium dioxide nanoparticles. Nanotoxicology, 10, 1442-1447.

17.Al-Bairuty, G. A., Boyle, D., Henry, T. B. and Handy, R. D. (2016) Sublethal effects of copper sulphate compared to copper nanoparticles in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) at low pH: physiology and metal accumulation. Aquatic Toxicology, 174, 188–198.

18.Selck, H., Handy, R. D., Fernandes, T. F., Klaine, S. J. and Petersen, E. J. (2016) Nanomaterials in the aquatic environment: A European Union-United States perspective on the status of ecotoxicity testing, research priorities and challenges ahead. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 35, 1055-1067.

19.Tatsi, K., Turner, A., Handy, R. D. and Shaw, B. J. (2015) The acute toxicity of thallium to freshwater organisms: Implications for risk assessment. Science of the Total Environment, 536, 382–390.

20.Besinis, A., De Peralta, T., Tredwin, C. J., and Handy, R. D. (2015) A review of nanomaterials in dentistry: Interactions with the oral microenvironment, clinical applications, hazards and benefits. ACS Nano, 9 (3), 2255–2289

Reports & invited lectures

Professor Handy has had numerous personal invitations to speak at international meetings and has headed a variety of working groups. The key themes have been:-

Ecotoxicity of nanomaterials
Risk assessment and test methods for nanomaterials
Dietary toxicity of metals
In vitro methods and the 3Rs
Education and training of scientists

Other academic activities

In addition to committees, societies, technical working groups etc. Professor Handy also edits for several journals including the following:-

Co-editor-in-Chief, Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety.
Journal of Fish Biology (Associate Editor, Physiology).
Ecotoxicology (Reviews and Special Issues editor)


Co-editor-in-Chief, Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety.

My personal website on my novels, academic books and writing activities:

Royal Society of Biology

Society of Experimental Biology

Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry