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A computer simulation shows a buckyball cluster moving through a cell wall, then dispersing inside the cell.  (Source: Peter Tieleman, University of Calgary)
Canadian research points to an unfriendly result of nanoparticle exposure.

One of the hottest topics in science lately, whether it concerns medical, industrial, aerospace, computing or one of a bucket full of various branches of science, is nanotechnology. Though there are any number of nanoparticle-based inventions roaming around and endless numbers of researchers creating new uses and machines every day, the most popular particles are probably the buckyball and carbon nanotubes (CNTs). Between the two pure-carbon particles, it seems like the advancement of anything from cancer treatment to fuel cells will be possible.

Of growing concern lately, however, is how these particles might affect the human body in the long term. CNT-based cancer treatments sound like a wonderful idea, but what happens to all those used up CNTs and what damage might they themselves inflict after destroying those hated cancer cells?

Several groups are proposing stricter controls for nanotechnology and declaring the need for more research into the effects of nanoparticles on humans. One recent study showed that CNTs of a certain length act disturbingly like asbestos particles when they enter the lungs of laboratory rats, either by injection or inhalation.

Last week another group published results of a computer modeled study of what interactions buckyballs, 60 atom carbon molecules shaped like a soccer ball, might have with cells in living beings. Their data has been published in the Advance Online Publication section of the popular Nature Nanotechnology journal as a paper titled “Computer simulation study of fullerene translocation through lipid membranes.”

The group, from the University of Calgary, used the computing power of WestGrid to run their simulations, which involved buckyball clusters interacting with lipid cell membranes. Their simulations found that the molecules were able to dissolve into the cell membrane, passing through it without causing mechanical damage, and reform in the cell's interior. Once inside the cell, the buckyballs could cause damage to the cells.

Peter Tieleman, one of the study's leaders, explains “buckyballs are already being made on a commercial scale for use in coatings and materials but we have not determined their toxicity. There are studies showing that they 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.”



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It is only logical
By MrBlastman on 5/28/2008 10:19:15 AM , Rating: 2
To deduce that carbon nano-objects might in fact cross the cellular barrier and gain entry into a cell and as a result, cause possibly harmful effects. From what I understand, the article mentioned that they passed into Lipid cells (I might need to re-read), which are fat cells. While interesting, I would need to see more studies pointing at these crossing into more critical cells within the body to be alarmed.

If a number of household products began using these carbon structures, and it were proven that the carbon nano-objects could enter other cells within the body, I would be concerned due to the large possibility of them inducing cancer over the long term.

There's a reason they tell you not to burn your hamburger or steaks. What do you think that burnt area is? Carbon...

However, I don't think we can be worried just yet - more studies are needed. It is interesting nonetheless.




RE: It is only logical
By AsicsNow on 5/28/2008 10:32:30 AM , Rating: 5
The types of membranes are not so different between most normal cell types however. Also, the reason you dont want to burn your food is because you end up burning the chemicals that your body normally converts into energy, and the black carbon remaining has no nutrional value. It is not because carbon ingestion is inherently bad. Its just that is tastes awful and gives you no calories because all of the sugars and proteins break apart and are completely burned after cooking for too long.


RE: It is only logical
By GaryJohnson on 5/28/2008 10:39:20 AM , Rating: 4
From wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carcinogens :

quote:
Cooking food at high temperatures, for example grilling or barbecuing meats, can lead to the formation of minute quantities of many potent carcinogens that are comparable to those found in cigarette smoke (i.e., benzopyrene).

This is probably what he was referring to, as apposed to the lack of nutritional value and bad taste.


RE: It is only logical
By GaryJohnson on 5/28/2008 10:33:34 AM , Rating: 1
quote:
What do you think that burnt area is? Carbon...


This sounds to me like your saying all carbon is dangerous. You know the human body is about 18% carbon, right?


RE: It is only logical
By freaqie on 5/28/2008 10:50:52 AM , Rating: 2
not all carbon is dangerous. however some compositions, some molecules like asbethos are dangerous. and if these carbon structures behave alike... they could be dangerous also, so better be careful thats all


RE: It is only logical
By MrBlastman on 5/28/2008 11:18:02 AM , Rating: 2
No, I'm not saying all carbon is dangerous at all. Humans are comprised of the element for sure, but, introduction of foreign particulate matter into a cellular structure is bound to cause chaos with the inner workings of the cell.

This is what I was implying. If you disrupt how the cell functions or acts, then problems could occur during mitosis causing possible mutations into things such as cancer.

Many other things can cause this as well, carbon isn't the only thing.


RE: It is only logical
By fk49 on 5/28/2008 11:29:22 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
From what I understand, the article mentioned that they passed into Lipid cells


The article was saying that the particles pass through the cell membrane (which is made of lipids) easily. If I remember high school bio correctly (I should i just graduated..), cells are protected by a lipid layer that selectively lets in nutrients and water as necessary. Nanoparticles passingly freely through that protective layer sounds a lot like what a virus will do.


RE: It is only logical
By geddarkstorm on 5/28/2008 1:26:18 PM , Rating: 5
Yes, all living cells, without exception, have the lipid bilayer seen in the picture there. Plants, fungi and bacteria have an extra "cell wall" (the picture caption is wrong, that's a membrane, not cell wall), but mammal cells like ours only have the single lipid bilayer. So, if a buckyball can pass that lipid bilayer, it can enter into any cell what so ever in your body (providing it can reach that cell's location).

These buckyballs and other nano particles are not entering cells like viruses do, not in the least. They are small enough that they can simply cross the membrane--that means the membrane is not semipermeable to them, but fully permeable. Viruses, on the other hand, are far too big and have to either fuse with the cell membrane if they have an envelope, or enter via endocytosis (for polio, it may just punch a hole in the cell membrane and pump its RNA through).


RE: It is only logical
By Cheapshot on 5/28/2008 12:31:35 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
which are fat cells. While interesting, I would need to see more studies pointing at these crossing into more critical cells within the body to be alarmed.


...at first glance I think you misunderstood the reason they used fat cell sims... as the brain is made up of entirely fat.


RE: It is only logical
By MrPoletski on 5/29/2008 5:00:27 AM , Rating: 2
Mine is made of neurons thanks, some people on this earth have brains made of Faecalons.


RE: It is only logical
By emoser96 on 5/28/2008 8:55:20 PM , Rating: 2
.
quote:
From what I understand, the article mentioned that they passed into Lipid cells (I might need to re-read), which are fat cells. While interesting, I would need to see more studies pointing at these crossing into more critical cells within the body to be alarmed.


As far as the lipid cells go, the major nerve cells (read Autonomic Nerve System here), and a significant portion of the brain have a myelin coating to increase electrical transmission speed. IIRC, myelin is a lipid, which would mean that crossing and dissolving the lipid barrier would reduce in significantly reduced neuron transmission (3m/s for unmyelinated as opposed to about 30 m/s for myelinated nerves)


Ho there! Slow this puppy down.
By Biodude on 5/28/2008 12:03:59 PM , Rating: 5
I wanted to jump in here before the panic seems to go too far.

quote:
Their simulations found that the molecules were able to dissolve into the cell membrane, passing through it without causing mechanical damage, and reform in the cell's interior.


Nope, sorry, the article doesn't mention them going into the cell's interior at all, and in fact I think it would be highly unlikely. As a "Fullerene is not soluble in water" they would be highly unlikely to leave the lipid layer once they have entered.

quote:
Once inside the cell, the buckyballs could cause damage to the cells.
This is also not mentioned in the article. Could? Sure, so could lots of other things. Just conjecture a this point I'm afraid.

Instead of alarm, I was encouraged by the article, as the end of the synopsis states that "High concentrations of fullerene induce changes in the structural and elastic properties of the lipid bilayer, but these are not large enough to mechanically damage the membrane. Our
results suggest that mechanical damage is an unlikely mechanism for membrane disruption and fullerene toxicity."
Translation: This is good news, as even though the fullerenes can get into the membrane easily, their interaction with the membrane probably won't be responsible for any toxicity that may be seen in the future.




RE: Ho there! Slow this puppy down.
By 7Enigma on 5/28/2008 12:34:33 PM , Rating: 2
Thank you, it took this many posts to get someone who actually LOOKED at the picture instead of just reading the idiotic caption (which called the membranes cell walls....). These buckyballs are essentially getting into the lipid bilayer, dispersing inside, but then staying inside. The odds of them leaving the cell membrane without a form of active transport is virtually nil (they are quite hydrophobic after all).


By geddarkstorm on 5/28/2008 1:39:24 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Translation: This is good news, as even though the fullerenes can get into the membrane easily, their interaction with the membrane probably won't be responsible for any toxicity that may be seen in the future.


Not quite. They do
quote:
induce changes in the structural and elastic properties of the lipid bilayer


You do not have to damage a membrane to screw a cell up. Changing the electrical potential of your neurons could disrupt your ability to think, move, or heart to beat in a coordinated fashion--all without damaging the membranes directly, similar to how alcohol works. Moreover, the buckyballs could interact with membrane bound proteins and change their functions, change the permeability of membranes to certain ions and compounds, and change the fluid dynamics of membranes (i.e. disrupt or increase lipid rafts, melting point, and rigidity). In all these cases, the membrane will remain intact, yet the cell could still change function and/or die. For instance, if the spaces the buckyballs created in the membrane allowed sodium ions to freely pass through, you'd lose all ability of nerves to create action potentials, and now the fullerenes are acting as a neurotoxin.

Frankly, the buckyballs may do absolutely nothing, and I would think they do have a very limited affect and only at high concentrations, but we do not know with certainty and it would be prudent to test.


By MrPoletski on 5/29/2008 5:08:56 AM , Rating: 2
Isn't buckminsterfullerene conductive? surely filling the lipid layer of a nerve cell would, in effect, aid signal transmission?;)


Environmental persistency
By AnnihilatorX on 5/28/2008 10:15:13 AM , Rating: 2
Do we know how long these nanoparticles survive in the environment under effects of say UV lights from the sun, microbiotic and chemical interactions?
If they persist in the environment then they can accumulate and "have potential" to cause whole lot of problems from the food chain to effects like infamous CFCs and greenhouse effects for example.

These certainly deserve thorough research.
Though out of the man made environmental disasters, for instance, DDT and CFCs, even extensive research may not had predicted their peculiar environmental effects. Nanotechnologies effect on the environment may be even more peculiar.




RE: Environmental persistency
By geddarkstorm on 5/28/2008 1:43:03 PM , Rating: 2
Urm, you were looking for mercury besides DDT as examples of compounds getting amplified through the food chain, not CFCs. But, that's a good point. If buckyballs can reside in cell membranes and fat tissue, then they won't be passed out of your body and, like mercury, will slowly build up.


RE: Environmental persistency
By HVAC on 5/28/2008 3:09:48 PM , Rating: 2
So, what cracks these monolith molecules? Will I just need to do a really good internal cleanse, massive doses of vitamin C, or are we talking apply lips to posterior and kiss?


RE: Environmental persistency
By HVAC on 5/28/2008 3:11:05 PM , Rating: 2
I know! We'll hire teeny-tiny soccer players to kick the things out of our cells!


Cell walls != cell membranes
By CottonRabbit on 5/28/2008 10:15:40 AM , Rating: 2
Cell walls are not the same as phospholipid cell membranes. Cell walls are not found in animal cells. I doubt a buckyball would be able to pass a cell wall.




RE: Cell walls != cell membranes
By AnnihilatorX on 5/28/2008 10:16:36 AM , Rating: 2
That was what I thought too.
Cell walls are found in plants only. And both plants and animal cells have cell membranes.


RE: Cell walls != cell membranes
By freaqie on 5/28/2008 10:52:07 AM , Rating: 2
even though you later eat those plants...
and some structures seem to behave like asbethos after being injected... aka bad..

so i'd rather not eat those kinds of plants


By PAPutzback on 5/28/2008 10:13:32 AM , Rating: 2
Is it typically only chemicals that get checked for toxicity and not man made material?




By Cr0nJ0b on 5/28/2008 4:24:25 PM , Rating: 3
remember...

"without chemicals, Life itself would be impossible" (Dupont, 1981)


research needed
By Moishe on 5/28/2008 10:13:47 AM , Rating: 2
It would be a shame if there was a determined to be a real threat to humans from misuse of nanotech. As a member of the human race I would hate to see us wiped out. Far-fetched, maybe, but it deserves to be looked into.




Its All Carbon!
By Sulphademus on 5/28/2008 4:58:17 PM , Rating: 2
Carbon tubes, Carbon soccer balls, Carbon fiber Porsche bodies...

And Cameron Diaz and Bono are asking me to reduce my carbon footprint, while governments want to levy carbon taxes.

Are pop culture and technological innovation two trains going in opposite directions?

(A layman's observation, not a technical one.)




Perhaps...
By Comdrpopnfresh on 5/28/2008 6:18:48 PM , Rating: 2
I think that as the engineering possibilities on the nanoscale becomes more complex and well matured, it should be a goal to add a binding location to these structures. What should be kept in mind is that these formations are being unnaturally made, but nature provides a good basis on how problems might be solved. Perhaps an endcap for a cnt, or a certain part of the bb might allow for an alcohol or some other expandable molecule to bind to it, to allow it to become harder to diffuse through the cell membrane. Kind of how an OH might be placed where a single H previously resided, allowing for the formation of chains of atoms in fattyacids, proteins, and hydrocarbons.

In a closely monitored manufacturing, engineering, and production environment, these sites wouldn't spoil the formation and use of the cnts and bballs, but in the human body, a pill or drink could add an inert mixture to the body, which would actively bind to these carbon formations, making them unable to adversely affect the biological systems, and be treated like body waste.
Buckyballs are in public water in small quantities, and are most certainly carcinogenic




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