Paris – For the first time, scientists found carbon nanotubes in human lungs. These were taken from the respiratory system of children in Paris during their asthma treatment. The belief is that they came from exhaust pipes of Paris cars, where they found similar samples.

Carbon nanotubes are materials used in auto parts, electrical components, batteries, textiles and even human tissue engineering, as they are strong yet elastic, and have mechanical, electrical, thermal, optical and chemical properties that make them one of the most handy materials of all.

Fathi Moussa, along with his colleagues at the University of Paris-Saclay and the Rice University, conducted the study in 64 asthmatic children, analyzing fluids from their airways, finding nanotubes in all the samples.

Conceptual diagram of single-walled carbon nanotube (SWCNT) (A) and multiwalled carbon nanotube (MWCNT) (B) delivery systems showing typical dimensions of length, width, and separation distance between graphene layers in MWCNTs. Credit: The Journal of Nuclear Medicine

Researchers say that there is no necessarily link between their asthma and the presence of this nanotubes, although studies conducted in mice have shown that this material could be associated with immune reactions —like the ones caused by asbestos. In fact, five other children that underwent the study had macrophages immune cells in their lungs, wich cause declining of respiratory functions.

“The concentrations of nanotubes are so low in these samples that it’s hard to believe they would cause asthma, but you never know. What surprised me the most was that carbon nanotubes were the major component of the carbonaceous pollution we found in the samples,” said Lon Wilson, from Rice University on a press release.

Even though the nanotubes aren’t the cause of the condition, the presence of them in people suffering from asthma makes them more vulnerable, as the surface can sustain other pollutants that could get in their respiratory system.

Scientists say that carbon nanotubes can be found in nature, like fullerene molecules commonly produced by volcanoes, forest fires and other combustion processes of carbon materials. “All you need is a little catalysis to make carbon nanotubes instead of fullerenes” added Mr. Wilson.

Wilson says is not really a surprise to found this carbon nanotubes, as a car’s catalytic converter transforms toxic carbon monoxide into safer emissions, a process similar to the production of this materials.

Researchers found ironic the fact that people wear masks in laboratories when they work with nanotubes to prevent the exact same thing that they found on their samples, as any person walking in any street of any city probably has carbon nanotubes on their lungs.

However, further research has to be made to unveil the real consequences of having these carbon materials in our system.

Source: EBioMedicine