A new research has led scientists to conclude that a common building material, when inhaled, can cause severe brain damage. The substance in question is known as carbon nanotubes.

Carbon nanotubes are a novel mechanized substance which is used in building products ranging from a tennis racket to the parts of a spacecraft. It is defined as an allotrope of carbon and belongs to the fullerene structural section of the family.

The substance is composed of carbon molecules, which have abnormal characteristics. These are used in electronics, nanotechnology and in varied other fields of technology and material science.

The Effects Of Carbon Nanotubes

Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine have uncovered that inhalation of these carbon nanotubes may lead to swelling in one's brain.

Earlier studies have also linked constant neuroinflammation to neurological ailments like hemorrhagic strokes, Alzheimer's and dementia.

"Inhalation-induced neuroinflammation is presently a hot area of study as a causal factor in the development of neurodegenerative disease, leaving open the possibility that working with these compounds and inhaling them may contribute to later neurological ailment," said Andrew Ottens, associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy from the VCU School of Medicine.

With the help of animal testing, researchers have proven that the breakdown of blood and brain barrier was caused when the animals were exposed to carbon nanotubes.

The lung acts as a barrier when the substance is inhaled. Therefore, only about 0.001 percent of the substance reaches the brain while the other part remains in the lung causing inflammation.

This inflammation of the lung causes a biochemical alteration, which leads to the breaking of the blood-brain barrier. This disruption leads to leaking of the blood and its constituents in the brain. Glial cells surround the leaked blood vessels to minimize the damage.

The resulting neuroinflammation can lead to severe neurodegeneration. The effects of this inflammation have close association with the vascular system and the respiratory system, and the brain.

The investigators have come to the conclusion that carbon nanotubes cause neuroinflammation indirectly by attacking blood and the lungs.

Further Investigations

Investigators are trying to understand the different ways carbon nanotubes affect workers, especially those who work in the manufacturing sector.

To determine this, they are trying to gauge the levels of the substance which is airborne at factories and manufacturing plants. Blood-based biomarkers are also being developed, which can measure the biological reaction of an individual who may inhale the carbon nanotubes.

"We hope that this study can contribute to thresholds and guidelines for the safe use of carbon nanotubes in the industry, and provide diagnostics to assess worker's health, for example, in case of an accident," Ottens added.

The study's findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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