Carbon nanotubes cause cancer in same way as asbestos

November 08, 2017 //By Peter Clarke
Carbon nanotubes are carcinogenic and the mechanism by which they cause cancer would appear to be the same as in the case of asbestos, according to a paper published in Current Biology by authors from the UK's Medical Research Council (MRC).

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are a much-heralded wonder material stronger than steel and a superior electrical conductor due to their rolled two-dimensional nature. However, the carcinogenic nature of long CNT fibers indicates caution in how they are used, the researchers conclude.

CNTs are being deployed and experimented with in multiple areas in nanoelectronics. However, CNTs should be handled with care. Their nanoscopic nature makes them difficult to control and similarly makes protection of production operatives difficult. The same lessons should probably be carried over to the use of many so-called bio-persistent materials at the nanometer scale.

One of the big problems with asbestos in the past, and with CNTs now, is that their cancer-inducing nature is a long-term effect. Once taken in the fibers are difficult to purge and remain unnoticed in the lungs. It is the long-term inflammatory effect of long fibers drawn into the lungs that opens up chemical and biochemical pathways to cancer, although the molecular mechanisms underlying long latency mesothelioma are not yet known.

The MRC research shows that bio-persistent long fibers induce pleural disease, including mesothelioma, on the same pathway as asbestos. The researchers conlude: "Given that the increasing manufacture of long CNT fibers raises the potential for human exposure, our findings reinforce the need for caution when using these agents if long-term harm is to be avoided."

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Current Biology article

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