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Carbon nanotubes introduced into the abdominal cavity of mice show asbestos-like pathogenicity in a pilot study


Carbon nanotubes1 have distinctive characteristics2, but their needle-like fibre shape has been compared to asbestos3, raising concerns that widespread use of carbon nanotubes may lead to mesothelioma, cancer of the lining of the lungs caused by exposure to asbestos4. Here we show that exposing the mesothelial lining of the body cavity of mice, as a surrogate for the mesothelial lining of the chest cavity, to long multiwalled carbon nanotubes results in asbestos-like, length-dependent, pathogenic behaviour. This includes inflammation and the formation of lesions known as granulomas. This is of considerable importance, because research and business communities continue to invest heavily in carbon nanotubes for a wide range of products5 under the assumption that they are no more hazardous than graphite. Our results suggest the need for further research and great caution before introducing such products into the market if long-term harm is to be avoided.

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Figure 1: Recruitment of inflammatory cells in the peritoneal cavity after introduction of fibres.
Figure 2: Effect of the particle/fibre on diaphragms after 7 days.
Figure 3: Effect of fibre length on phagocytosis by peritoneal macrophages.


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We gratefully acknowledge Mitsui & Co. for the provision of a multiwalled carbon nanotube sample used. We thank S. Mitchell (University of Edinburgh) for sample preparation for SEM and technical assistance with the TEM and S. Clark (Institute of Occupational Medicine) for his technical assistance with the SEM. We thank the Colt Foundation (C.A.P., R.D., V.S. and K.D.), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Royal Academy of Engineering (I.K.) for financial support.

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C.A.P., R.D. and K.D. initiated, designed, directed and performed all experiments and took responsibility for planning and writing the manuscript. I.K. manufactured and provided the MWNT sample, NTlong2, and provided specialist input regarding CNT production and morphology. W.A.H.W. aided in the interpretation of the histological sections and contributed to the writing of the manuscript. A.M., A.S., S.B., V.S. and W.MacN. provided intellectual input and contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ken Donaldson.

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Poland, C., Duffin, R., Kinloch, I. et al. Carbon nanotubes introduced into the abdominal cavity of mice show asbestos-like pathogenicity in a pilot study. Nature Nanotech 3, 423–428 (2008).

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