For the first time ever, a new study has found carbon nanotubes present in the lungs of children with asthma, raising concerns about the potential effects of the widely used material on respiratory health.
Carbon nanotubes are frequently used in electronics, clothing, and nanotechnology. They are microscopic cylinders made of carbon so small that they are 10,000 times smaller than a single strand of hair. Their strength and ability to conduct both heat and electricity make them useful for a wide range of purposes.
A new study published in EBioMedicine found the nanotubes were present in the airways of children with asthma. Researchers from the University of Paris-Saclay studied 64 children suffering from asthma, analyzing the fluid from their airways. Nanotubes were found in every sample. As well, a further five children who were studied were found to have nanotubes in their lung’s immune cells.
The study raises certain health concerns, as animal studies have previously shown that carbon nanotubes could cause similar health effects as asbestos. Mice injected with carbon nanotubes had a strong immune reaction and suffered tissue lesions.
The results from the study do not necessarily suggest that carbon nanotubes cause or contribute to asthma, although that is a possibility. Another theory is that the lungs of children with asthma are unable to effectively remove inhaled pollutants. Researchers also suggested that carbon nanotubes could be present in everyone’s lungs.
There is debate within the scientific and medical communities as to whether carbon nanoparticles do have negative health effects on humans. So far, there has been a lack of research on their health implications.
Cars produce and emit carbon nanotubes. Carbon nanotubes are commonly found in car exhaust and dust. Lon Wilson, a chemist and co-author of the new study, said “We collected samples from the exhaust pipes of cars in Paris as well as from busy and non-busy intersections there and found the same type of structures as in the human samples.”
According to Wilson, this means that people are commonly being exposed to carbon nanoparticles. “It’s kind of ironic,” said Wilson. “In our laboratory, working with carbon nanotubes, we wear facemasks to prevent exactly what we’re seeing in these samples, yet everyone walking around out there in the world probably has at least a small concentration of carbon nanotubes in their lungs.”
While Wilson believes that the concentration found in the asthmatic children’s lungs may be small enough to be of no concern, he notes that without more research, it is impossible to determine what role they play in asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
The researchers also believe that the nanotubes could attach to other pollutants and carry them into people’s lungs.
Sources for Today’s Article:
“Are cars nanotube factories on wheels?” eScienceNews web site,October 21, 2015; http://esciencenews.com/articles/2015/10/21/are.cars.nanotube.factories.wheels.
Barras, C., “Nanotubes’ toxic effects ‘similar to asbestos’,” New Scientist web site, May 20, 2008; https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13946-nanotubes-toxic-effects-similar-to-asbestos.
Condliffe, J., “Carbon Nanotubes Found in Human Lungs For the First Time,” Gizmodo web site, October 21, 2015; http://gizmodo.com/carbon-nanotubes-found-in-human-lungs-for-the-first-tim-1737754483.
Strickland, E., “9 Ways Carbon Nanotubes Just Might Rock the World,” Discover Magazine web site, August 06, 2009; http://discovermagazine.com/2009/jul-aug/09-ways-carbon-nanotubes-just-might-rock-world.
Wong, S., “Carbon nanotubes found in children’s lungs for the first time,” New Scientist web site, October 21, 2015; https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn28370-carbon-nanotubes-found-in-childrens-lungs-for-the-first-time/.