types of carbon nanotubes — cylindrical molecules about one-thousandth
of the width of a human hair — could cause cancer in the lining of the
lung, University of Edinburgh research shows.
The study in mice found short carbon nanotubes appear relatively harmless if they entered lung cavities.
However, longer nanotubes were more likely to get stuck there and ultimately cause a type of cancer known as mesothelioma.
Need for risk assessment
are looking at assessing the level of risk involved, for instance
examining how many of the long fibres are present in the air at
The study was published in the American Journal of Pathology.
industrial-scale manufacture of carbon nanotubes is increasing, with a
global market in excess of £1 billion. This research shows that there is
a potential hazard in the manufacture of certain types of carbon
nanotubes” says Ken Donaldson, Professor of Respiratory Toxicology.
Similarities with asbestos
The research found that longer carbon nanotubes caused a reaction in the lung lining similar to that of asbestos.
asbestos fibres are more harmful than shorter fibres since they also
get stuck in the lung cavity where they can cause diseases including
Finding safest kind of nanotube
study demonstrates the need for industry to design safe nanofibres that
are long enough to be useful but short enough to avoid causing disease.
It follows previous research in mice looking at the effect of carbon nanotubes on the stomach cavity.
Source: University of Edinburgh