Researchers have found carbon nanotubes in the lungs of children in Paris, marking the first time ever that carbon nanotubes have been observed inside the human body.
According to New Scientist, the fluid was found in the lungs of 64 children that were asthmatic. In five of these cases, nanotubes were also found within the immune cells of lungs, in what are called macrophages.
Carbon nanotubes themselves are basically cylindrical carbon molecules that are very light, have high strength, and have good conductivity, making them popular for use in nanotechnology and optics.
It's important to note that the carbon nanotubes were only found in these patients because they had already undergone the invasive fiber-optic bronchoscopy procedure of having lung fluids removed as part of their diagnosis for asthma. Researchers did not sample fluids from the lungs of healthy patients. They examined fluids from 36 boys and 28 girls aged between 2 months to 17 years of age, with the median 54 months, or 4.5 years old.
It's not yet known exactly how many of these tubes were found in the lungs of the children in Paris, nor is it known exactly where they came from. There also isn't necessarily a link between carbon nanotubes and asthma, although some researchers, in conducting studies with mice, have found that carbon nanotubes are associated with immune reactions similar to reactions brought on by asbestos. Basically, it seems as though carbon nanotubes in the lungs can cause the lungs to break down over time, similar to what asbestos does.
While the exact origin of the carbon nanotubes is not yet known, researchers have found similar structures in the exhaust of vehicles and dust in Paris, in air in the U.S. and in spider webs in India, indicating their presence is widespread. The original study was published in EBioMedicine.
Perhaps most important is the fact that the researchers now have an effective way to look at carbon nanotubes in tissue samples. The goal is that they will be able to conduct more research on the effect of carbon nanotubes in the lungs of humans and the implications on health that they can have.
Photo: Geoff Hutchison | Flickr