Nanotubes not toxic, researchers say
R Colin Johnson
6/20/2011 2:16 PM EDT
PORTLAND, Ore.—Nanotubes may not be toxic, as previously reported elsewhere, according to the Semiconductor Research Corp. (SRC). Rather, contaminants mixed in during their manufacture should be credited with their adverse health effects, according to a University of Texas study funded by SRC.
"Carboxylated single-walled carbon nanotubes indeed reduce the ability of mammalian cells to grow in culture, but by using simple filtration methods we were able to remove the contaminants introduced during manufacturing," said University of Texas professor Rockford Draper. "The resulting purified nanotubes were shown to have no ill effect on mammalian cells grown in culture."
The surprising finding can be applied immediately by research organizations using one of two methods outlined by the researchers in a paper entitled "Cytotoxicity Screening of Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes: Detection and Removal of Cytotoxic Contaminants from Carboxylated Carbon Nanotubes," slated to be published in Molecular Pharmaceutics. Commercial manufacturers of nanotubes are expected to pick up the gaunlet and begin using these methods to offer pre-screened purified nanotubes which have already had the filtration process applied to them.
The research was conducted under the auspices of SRC's Center for Environmentally Benign Semiconductor Manufacturing, which supplies semiconductor manufacturers with a variety of guidelines on how to fabricate microchips in the safest and most economical manner that complies with worldwide efforts to use "green" materials and methods.
"During the manufacture of semiconductors using nanotubes, they are usually immobilized, preventing them from entering the environment," said Dan Herr, SRC director of nanomanufacturing sciences. "Nevertheless, we will continue to focus our efforts on minimizing their health impact and on insuring the safety of both the workers using these nanotube-based materials as well as on their potential hazards after manufacturing."
SRC is currently soliciting proposals for research that studies the entire lifecycle of carbon nanotubes and the semiconductors in which they will be used, as well as on different varieties of nanotubes, such as the multi-walled variety used in many bioelectronic applications.
Additional funding for the current research was provided by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Single cell overlayed with the distribution in the cell of purified carboxylated single-walled carbon nanotubes (shown in yellow). No apparent effect was observed in the purified nanotubes, whereas unpurified nanotubes inside cells inhibited growth by 60 percent.