There is strong evidence that certain carbon nanotubes used in manufacturing could pose the same cancer risk as asbestos, a study by the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) has concluded.
Commercial uses of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) including special paints, sports equipment such as bicycle frames and tennis racquet handles, boat hulls, aircraft, sports cars and computer motherboards. However, some CNTs are similar in size and shape to asbestos fibres, leading researchers to question whether they might have the same harmful effect on our lungs.
In a study involving mice, the researchers from MRC’s Toxicology Unit studied the changes asbestos fibres and CNTs caused in the cells lining the pleura – a key site for the development of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma – over a number of months. The mesothelioma that developed in the mice after asbestos or CNT exposure was similar to mesothelioma samples from patients exposed to asbestos.
In a paper published in he journal Current Biology, the authors note that for both substances changes to cells occurred that are also seen in mesothelioma sufferers.
“Unlike previously reported short-term studies, this is the first time the mesothelioma-causing effects of long and thin carbon nanotubes have been monitored in mice over many months,” said the study’s senior author, Professor Marion MacFarlane.
“Because it is diagnosed in humans when it’s quite advanced, we don’t know much about how or why it forms. This research could help us define key indicators for early detection as well as provide information for developing targeted therapies for this devastating disease.”
- Tatyana Chernova and others. Long-Fiber Carbon Nanotubes Replicate Asbestos-Induced Mesothelioma with Disruption of the Tumor Suppressor Gene Cdkn2a (Ink4a/Arf), Current Biology, volume 27, issue 21, p3302–3314.e6, 6 November 2017.