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Rice finds 'on-off switch' for buckyball toxicity

HOUSTON, Sept. 24, 2004 -- Researchers at Rice University's Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) have demonstrated a simple way to reduce the toxicity of water-soluble buckyballs by a factor of more than ten million.

The research will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Nano Letters, published by the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. One of the first toxicological studies of buckyballs, the research was published online by the journal on Sept. 11.

Buckyballs, whose chemical notation is C60, are hollow, soccerball-shaped molecules containing 60 carbon atoms. Their diameter is just one-billionth of a meter, or one nanometer, and their discovery at Rice in 1985 is widely regarded as an early milestone in the field of nanotechnology.

While buckyballs show great promise in applications as diverse as fuel cells, batteries, pharmaceuticals and coatings, some scientists and activists have raised concerns about their potential toxicity to humans and animals.

CBEN's study is the first cytotoxicity study of human cells exposed to buckyballs. Cytotoxicity refers to toxic effects on individual cells. The study found that even minor alterations to the surface of the buckyballs can dramatically affect how toxic they are to individual cells, and the researchers identified specific alterations that render them much less toxic.

"There are many cases where toxicity is desirable," said Vicki Colvin, CBEN director, professor of chemistry and chemical engineering, and the principal investigator for the research. "For example, we might want particles that kill cancer cells or harmful bacteria. In other cases -- like applications where particles may make their way into the environment -- toxicity is undesirable."

In the study, the researchers exposed two types of human cells to various solutions containing different concentrations of buckyballs. Four types of solutions were test
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Contact: Jade Boyd
jadeboyd@rice.edu
713-348-6778
Rice University
24-Sep-2004


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