Toxicological Effects of Carbon Nanotubes

Toxicological Effects of Carbon Nanotubes

James C. Bonner (North Carolina State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6363-3.ch015
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The rapidly evolving field of nanotechnology offers many potential societal and economic benefits. Carbon Nanotubes (CNTs) are one of the most widely produced engineered nanomaterials and have diverse applications in engineering, electronics, and medicine. They have also been extensively investigated for their toxicological properties. Studies with rodents indicate that CNTs can cause lung fibrosis or granuloma formation, exacerbate pre-existing respiratory disease, cause injury to the sensitive pleural lining of the lungs, and have systemic immunosuppressive effects. CNTs have also been reported to cause genotoxic effects on cultured cells. The fiber-like structure of CNTs has led to comparisons with asbestos fibers; yet the debate over whether CNTs cause mesothelioma remains highly controversial, and evidence thus far is lacking. The aim of this chapter is to overview the evidence in rodent models that CNTs cause lung disease and to discuss the potential of CNTs to cause adverse immune, fibrogenic, or carcinogenic effects in humans as a result of occupational, consumer, or environmental exposure.
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Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are proto-typical engineered nanomaterials that possess superior strength with minimal weight. CNTs also can be easily functionalized at the atomic level to enhance their properties for use in electronics, engineering, and biomedicine. While promising for many uses, the length and high tensile strength of CNTs also make them a potential risk for lung diseases and as well as other systemic sites of injury [Bonner 2010a]. The most likely route for human exposure is inhalation. A growing number of studies using rats or mice show that CNTs delivered to the lungs cause interstitial lung fibrosis, granuloma formation, or fibrogenic reactions at the pleura [Bonner 2011]. CNTs also exacerbate pre-existing respiratory disease and cause systemic effects in other organ systems such as heart and spleen [Thompson et al., 2013]. While rodent studies indicate that CNTs cause adverse pulmonary and systemic effects, there is currently no epidemiologic data demonstrating that CNTs cause disease in humans. This is likely due to the infancy of the nanotechnology industry and the long latency time for chronic lung diseases in humans. A major goal for investigators in the field of nanotoxicology is to better understand the adverse effects and mode of action for engineered nanomaterials in rodent models of disease in order to predict the risk for human disease.

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