LOS ANGELES -- Tissue studies indicate that nanoparticles, engineered materials about a billionth of a meter in size, could damage DNA and lead to cancer, according to research presented at the 2007 Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.
Nanoparticles are small enough to penetrate cell membranes and defenses, yet they are large enough to cause trouble by interfering with normal cell processes, researchers at the University of Massachusetts say. Such nanoparticles are currently in use in electronics, cosmetics, and chemical manufacturing, among others industries. Because of their extremely small size, they can be difficult to isolate from the larger environment, as they are much too small for removal by conventional filtering techniques.
When nanoparticles find their way into cancer cells, they can wreak havoc, according to Sara Pacheco, an undergraduate researcher at the University of Massachusetts. Yet very little is known about how they behave in the environment or how they interact with and affect humans.
"Unfortunately, only a very small portion of research on nanoparticles is focused on health and safety risks, or on threats to the environment," Pacheco said. "I am concerned because so many new nanoparticles are being developed and there is little regulation on their manufacture, use and disposal."
Pacheco and her colleagues looked at how two different types of nanoparticles could cause DNA damage in the MCF-7 line of breast cancer cells.
She and her team examined the genotoxicity of silica and C60 fullerene nanoparticle suspensions using the alkaline single-cell gel electrophoresis assay (Comet assay) to quantify breaks in single and double stranded DNA. The team chose these particular nanoparticle types because they are commonly used commercially in electronics, textiles and sporting goods and easy to work with in the laboratory setting.