OMFG Nanotubes Cause Cancer!

Tom James @ 29-05-2008

asbestosIn typical Daily Mail style I begin with the ever-dependable “X Causes Cancer Shock” blog post. [image by shaymus]

That’s right! The Magic Molecules of the Future or carbon nanotubes – shortly to be used in every worthwhile human pursuit from watching pornography to curing cancer – may in fact cause cancer themselves.

That is to say: a couple of studies, one published in Nature Nanotechnology and another published by The Japanese Journal of Toxicological Science suggest that certain kinds of carbon nanotubes induce lesions and mesothelioma in a manner similar to another wonder-material, asbestos.

The report in Nature suggests that nanotubes longer than about 20 nm micrometers are the chief culprits:

Carbon nanotubes that are straight and 20 micrometers or longer in length–qualities that are well suited for composite materials used in sports equipment–resemble asbestos fibers. This has long led many experts to suggest that these carbon nanotubes might pose the same health risks as asbestos, a fire-resistant material that can cause mesothelioma, a cancer of a type of tissue surrounding the lungs. But until now, strong scientific evidence for this theory was lacking.

Fortunately in order to be as thoroughly unpleasant as asbestos, carbon nanotubes would need to become airborne and and be inhaled, something that carbon nanotubes are apparently not inclined to do.

As ever, more research is needed.

From a science fictional perspective: what will be the tabloid healthcare-stories of decades hence?

The problem with things like asbestos and thalidomide is that their terrible side-effects only come to light after millions of lives are damaged. And these tragedies are by definition black swans, inherently unpredictable and devastating with it.

Where is the next hubristic-but-unpredictable human-derived disaster going to come from? Carbon nanotubes? Quantum computing? Could it be something so boringly innocuous that you use it every day without thinking, whilst it eats away at every cell in your body?

I’m not talking about global warming or bird flu – I mean really out-there, mind-blowingly awful stuff we haven’t thought of yet. Stuff that’s affecting us right now that we don’t know about.

Anyway, less gloom and more cheer. Here is a funny story about a crazy luddite!


Carbon nanotube radio fits on the head of a pin

Jeremy Eades @ 13-02-2008

Oh, carbon nanotubes, is there anything you can’t do?  Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have come up with a radio, all of whose reception components are made of carbon nanotubes.  This is pretty much just a proof-of-concept, no one’s going to be mass-producing nano-radios anytime soon, and the actual amplifier and headphone jack can’t really be scaled down, limiting the lower size limit. 

What it does show is that nanotubes can be grown in arranged structures and the conductive properties are good enough that they may be a suitable replacement for silicon.  This is good news for solar manufacturers worried about a silicon shortage.  Not to mention it’d help with that pesky ewaste problem.  Listen to an interview with one of the researchers here.

(via Science Friday) (photo from flickr user jschneid)


Nanotube anti-radiation pill

Tomas Martin @ 01-02-2008

Fallout was one of the games that inspired John Joseph Adams to edit the recent anthology ‘Wastelands’After work by Stanford University found that carbon nanotubes don’t seem to have any detrimental effect inside the bodies of mice, researchers are looking for more ways of utilising the growing technology in medicine. DARPA has awarded a grant to Rice university to study whether a carbon nanotube based pill would be a good way of treating radiation sickness. Radiation in the body deforms cells and molecules, releasing terribly damaging free radicals which then cause more damage to the body.

“More than half of those who suffer acute radiation injury die within 30 days, not from the initial radioactive particles themselves but from the devastation they cause in the immune system, the gastrointestinal tract and other parts of the body. Ideally, we’d like to develop a drug that can be administered within 12 hours of exposure and prevent deaths from what are currently fatal exposure doses of ionizing radiation,” said James Tour, Rice University’s Chao Professor of Chemistry and director of Rice’s Carbon Nanotechnology Laboratory.

The Carbon pills would absorb large quanties of the radiation within the body, as well as the free radicals, which could dramatically cut down on the post-exposure spread of damaged cells. As DailyTech mention in their article about the discovery, video game Fallout had carbon-based anti-radiation pills way back in 1997. The third Fallout game is being released this year by the makers of Oblivion, Bethesda, for your post-apocalyptic gaming pleasure.

[story and Fallout 3 teaser poster via DailyTech]


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