Nano particles can damage animal cells

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nanotechnology Cell membrane

New research from the University of Calgary in Canada indicates
that nano-sized particles known as a 'buckyballs' are easily
absorbed into animal cells, suggesting they may prove to be toxic.

Biochemist Peter Tieleman says that his team modelled the interaction between carbon-60 molecules and cell membranes and found that the particles are able to enter cells 'by permeating their membranes without causing mechanical damage. "There are studies showing that they [buckyballs] can cross the blood-brain barrier and alter cell functions, which raises a lot of questions about their toxicity and what impact they may have if released into the environment,"​ said Tieleman. Impact on cell behaviour​ Tieleman and his team used high-powered computing resources to run some of the cell behaviour simulations in an effort to determine what their impact was. The results claim to show that buckyball particles are able to 'dissolve in animal cell membranes, pass into cells and re-form particles on the other side where they can cause damage to cells'. The research team points to the fact that clumps of buckyballs could be inhaled by humans as dust particles, but it is also stressed that how they enter cells and cause damage is still not fully understood. Research aims to uncover cause of cell damage​ However, Tieleman points out that his team's research might be able to provide a possible mechanism for how this damage might occur. First discovered in 1985 by researchers at the University of Sussex and Rice University, when they were named Buckminsterfullerene, this name was shortened to buckyballs, which are spherical nanoparticles that until now have been largely used in commercial scale coatings and materials. As well as the spherical-shaped buckyballs, nano particles can also be produced in cylindrical form and can be used to create hollow fibres known as carbon nano tubes. Buckyballs go the cosmetic route ​ However, Tieleman and his team point out that these buckyballs are likely to have specific applications in an increasing number of consumer products, specifically in cosmetics, where increased efficacy is likely to benefit a variety of skin care products in particular. Nanotechnology has already been adopted by the personal care market on a fairly extensive level, proven by the fact that a recent inventory of nanotech-based consumer goods, compiled by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center recently recorded 85 cosmetic products using the technology. Nanotechnology is the science of manipulating the properties of tiny particles, measuring one billionth of a metre and has a broad range of applications from computer chips to food and personal care. A human hair is 80,000 nanometres (nm) wide, a red blood cell 7,000 nm wide, and a water molecule 0.3 nm wide.

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