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March 6th, 2009
Extremely small carbon nanotubes can move through lung fluid and suppress normal immune responses in human lung cells, finds this laboratory study.
A nanomaterial prized for its potential use in electronics moved through human lung fluid and altered the way lung cells reacted to infections, possibly reducing their ability to signal immune defenders and fight off the invaders.
The results add more concern about the safety of the very tiny particles called single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNT). Workers who make the materials -- and consumers who use them -- may be at risk if the nanomaterials are inhaled.
If breathed in, the materials may make the immune system less responsive to infections, suggest the authors. This could lead to more and longer respiratory diseases in those exposed to the fibrous particles.
SWCNT and other nanomaterials are very small particles, in the neighborhood of one billionth of a meter. Their small size gives them properties not found in their larger counterparts. SWCNTs are being investigated for use in electronics, transparent conducting films and building materials such as ultra-tough fibers.
While the new materials are expected to provide many benefits, the full impact on society should take into consideration negative consequences of material production and release into the environment. Slight modifications of the surface chemistry are known to alter the properties of the materials and may offer a way to modify their toxic interactions with living systems.
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