Nanostructures such as asbestos fibres and nanotubes can lead to health damage. Because of the tubes’ rounded ends, cells can ingest these foreign bodies matter even they are much too long for the cell. The nanostructures get trapped, destroying the cell the same way asbestos fibres do.
We can expect to find nanotubes in concrete, plastics and other materials in the future. These nanotubes can be several millimetres long, yet only 10 to 100 nanometres thick. Due to their rounded ends they are capable of entering and killing cells. Cell culture experiments conducted by Xinghua Shi from the Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing in cooperation with Huajian Gao and his team at Brown University in Providence showed that liver and thoracic cavity cells always ingest such tubes starting at one end. Once the nanotube has started entering the cell, the process is irreversible. The cell can no longer reject the trapped tube. This triggers an immune reaction, leading to inflammation which in turn can ultimately lead to DNA damage, cell death or cancer.
The researchers hope to provide significant incentives for a change in the shaping of nanotubes to prevent them migrating into cells.
Further information: http://www.scinexx.de/newsletter-wissen-aktuell-13906-2011-09-19.html
(Original publication: Nature Nanotechnology, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2011.15)
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