Carbon nanotubes have been spotted in the lungs of children studied in Paris, marking their first appearance in humans. In the 64 children diagnosed with asthma who were studied, researchers reported finding the particles in fluid sampled from all of the participants’ airways. Pollution is thought to be the culprit for the presence of these particles, yet the study has people wondering how worried they should be for their children’s safety.

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What are carbon nanotubes, anyway? The nanotube structure is an allotrope – or shape variety – of carbon, looking much like a chicken-wire fence bent into a tube. These cylindrical molecules have proven to be useful in many different fields of study, including optic, mechanical, and electrical applications. The structures themselves are quite large when compared to other molecules, which is what is most concerning to the scientists in the study.

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Fathi Moussa, co-author of the research, discusses how the wide surface area of the nanotubes may allow other pollutants to attach and become embedded in lung tissue and possibly even cross cell membranes. There were also findings on the molecules’ impairing effects on macrophages, or immune cells that act as the body’s janitorial crew for unwanted particles. As of right now, this study opens plenty of doors for further investigation into how the presence of nanotubes may impact humans’ health. Jonathan Grigg of the University of London says he doubts there is a cancer-causing link, especially when compared to harmful asbestos fibers, however. He stated, “I guess we’ve been breathing them for a very long time. But it needs more work, for sure.”

Via New Scientist

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