Inhaling nanoparticles may injure lungs

UC DAVIS (US) — Breathing two of the most common types of engineered nanomaterials can cause lung inflammation and damage, new research shows.

The ultrafine particles from a large family of materials increasingly are found in a host of household and commercial products, from sunscreens to the ink in copy machines to super-strong but lightweight sporting equipment.

“This research provides further confirmation that nanomaterials have the potential to cause inflammation and injury to the lungs. Although small amounts of these materials in the lungs do not appear to produce injury, we still must remain vigilant in using care in the diverse applications of these materials in consumer products and foods,” says Kent Pinkerton, a study senior author and the director of the University of California, Davis Center for Health and the Environment.


The research is published online in Environmental Health Perspectives. It is the first multi-institutional study examining the health effects of engineering nanomaterials to replicate and compare findings from different labs across the country.

The study is critical, the researchers say, because of the large quantities of nanomaterials being used in industry, electronics, and medicine. Earlier studies had found when nanomaterials are taken into the lungs they can cause inflammation and fibrosis.

In the current study, all members of the consortium were able to show similar findings when similar concentrations of the materials were introduced into the respiratory system. The findings should provide guidance for creating policy for the safe development of nanotechnology.

The current study used mice to examine the health effects of inhaling two types of nanomaterials, those made from titanium dioxide and those made from multi-walled carbon nanotubes, a substance with a tensile strength 100 times stronger than steel.

Used for their ability to confer strength and flexibility because of their tubular and spherical structures, the ubiquitous and highly malleable materials may be composed of everything from carbon to gold.

The primary concern for exposure to nanomaterials is by inhalation, although dermal, eye, and ingestion exposures also may occur during the manufacture and commercial application of these materials in a wide variety of products.

The study was conducted as part of the NIEHS NanoGo Consortium, which includes researchers at North Carolina State University, UC Davis, East Carolina University, the Health Effects Laboratory of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the University of Rochester, the University of Washington, and the Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology. NIEHS funded the research.

Source: UC Davis