New research suggests Carbon Nanotubes could be the new asbestos

Carbon Nanotubes, also known as CNTs, can be commonly found in household electrical appliances, bicycle equipment, and even tennis rackets! 

The material is prized for its conductivity - which is ten times that of copper- and its tensile strength - 100 times that of steel - so it’s not surprising that many have dubbed Carbon Nanotubes a ‘Wonder Material’.

However, new research from the toxicology department of the UK’s Medical Research Council suggests that CNTs could be linked to mesothelioma.

Carbon Nanotubes: small, but potentially deadly

Carbon Nanotubes: small, but potentially deadly

If this all sounds worryingly familiar, that’s because it is. In our nation’s not too distant past asbestos once shared a similar reputation and was prized for its impressive heat resistant properties. 

Since then, the cancer causing properties of asbestos and its links to mesothelioma have become widely known and in 2003 Australia banned the deadly mineral. 

During the CNT experiments researchers introduced CNT fibres and asbestos fibres into the pleural cavity of mice, a body part similar to human lungs. The animals were then monitored for a period of twenty months. 

What the researchers found was that mice with the introduced fibres had their cellular pathways for inflammation and caner activated and their DNA damaged; results that mymicked asbestos exposure. This was replicated over three different study groups.

Between 10-25% of the lab mice exposed to Carbon Nanotubes began to develop Mesothelioma.

Between 10-25% of the lab mice exposed to Carbon Nanotubes began to develop Mesothelioma.

The results of these three study groups showed that that between 10% and 25% of the animals exposed to CNT’s went onto develop mesothelioma.

The study was carefully set-up in order to replicate the low levels of chronic exposure  experienced by workers in the asbestos industry. The lab conditions reflected what it would be like to be exposed to fibres in the air, eight hours a day, for a working life of 40 years. 

Although the study certainly doesn’t prove that CNTs can cause mesothelioma in humans, it does make it frightfully clear that more research needs to be done and that CNTs may not be safe after all.

If nothing else, it is a reminder that It would be naive to think that an asbestos-level tragedy couldn’t happen again. 

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