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Home > Press > Cotton fibres instead of carbon nanotubes

Abstract:
Plant-based cellulose nanofibres do not pose a short-term health risk, especially short fibres, shows a study conducted in the context of National Research Programme "Opportunities and Risks of Nanomaterials" (NRP 64). But lung cells are less efficient in eliminating longer fibres.

Cotton fibres instead of carbon nanotubes

Bern, Switzerland | Posted on May 9th, 2015

Similar to carbon nanotubes that are used in cycling helmets and tennis rackets, cellulose nanofibres are extremely light while being extremely tear-resistant. But their production is significantly cheaper because they can be manufactured from plant waste of cotton or banana plants. "It is only a matter of time before they prevail on the market," says Christoph Weder of the Adolphe Merkle Institute at the University of Fribourg.

In the context of the National Research Programme "Opportunities and Risks of Nanomaterials" (NRP 64), he collaborated with the team of Barbara Rothen-Rutishauser to examine whether these plant-based nanofibres are harmful to the lungs when inhaled. The investigation does not rely on animal testing; instead the group of Rothen-Rutishauser developped a complex 3D lung cell system to simulate the surface of the lungs by using various human cell cultures in the test tube.

The shorter, the better

Their results (*) show that cellulose nanofibres are not harmful: the analysed lung cells showed no signs of acute stress or inflammation. But there were clear differences between short and long fibres: the lung cell system efficiently eliminated short fibres while longer fibres stayed on the cell surface.

"The testing only lasted two days because we cannot grow the cell cultures for longer," explains Barbara Rothen-Rutishauser. For this reason, she adds, they cannot say if the longer fibre may have a negative impact on the lungs in the long term. Tests involving carbon nanotubes have shown that lung cells lose their equilibrium when they are faced with long tubes because they try to incorporate them into the cell to no avail. "This frustrated phagocytosis can trigger an inflammatory reaction," says Rothen-Rutishauser. To avoid potential harm, she recommends that companies developing products with nanofibres use fibres that are short and pliable instead of long and rigid.

National Research Programme "Opportunities and Risks of Nanomaterials" (NRP 64)

The National Research Programme "Opportunities and Risks of Nanomaterials" (NRP 64) hopes to be able to bridge the gaps in our current knowledge on nanomaterials. Opportunities and risks for human health and the environment in relation to the manufacture, use and disposal of synthetic nanomaterials need to be better understood. The projects started their research work in December 2010.

Full bibliographic information
(*) C. Endes, S. Mueller, C. Kinnear et al. (2015). Fate of Cellulose Nanocrystal Aerosols Deposited on the Lung Cell Surface In Vitro. Biomacromolecules online: doi: 10.1021/acs.biomac.5b00055

####

About Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)
Acting on a mandate issued by the Swiss Federal Government, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) supports research undertaken inside and outside universities and fosters young scientific talent.

The Foundation Council is the governing body of the SNSF, which was founded in 1952. The Foundation Council has representatives of the scientific and research communities, the Federal Government and the cantons as well as economic and cultural institutions.

The Research Council, which is divided into four Divisions, evaluates research projects and makes decisions about awarding grants. The Local Research Commissions award fellowships for prospective researchers and assist the SNSF with the evaluation of grant applications.

The Secretariat, based in Berne, does the groundwork for the business of the Foundation and Research Councils and is responsible for administrative and financial duties.

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
Martina Stofer
0041 31 308 23 87


Prof. Barbara Rothen-Rutishauser
Adolphe Merkle Institute
University of Fribourg
Ch. des Verdiers 4
CH-1700 Fribourg
Tel.: +41 (0) 26 300 95 02

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