By Will Soutter
Researchers at University of Edinburgh have quantified the health impact of nanofibers, paving the way to reduce health risks faced by people working with these small fibers utilized in manufacturing industries.
The study has identified the lengths at which the nanofibers are dangerous to the lungs. When inhaled, these tiny fibers can enter the lung cavity due to their small size, which is a 1000-fold thinner than a human hair. This may cause mesothelioma, a cancer caused by inhaling asbestos fibers, which are analogous to nanofibers.
In the study, the University of Edinburgh researchers discovered that short fibers having a length of below five-thousandths of a millimeter did not affect lung cells. On the other hand, longer fibers are harmful to lung cell as they can enter the lung cavity and get trapped, thus causing disease.
Ken Donaldson, Professor of Respiratory Toxicology at the University of Edinburgh, stated that fabrication of new types of nanofibers by nanotechnology industries is raising concern over their health impact as they are analogous in shape to asbestos. It was a known fact that longer fibers are potentially more dangerous than shorter fibers in causing tumors. However, the cut-off length at which they become harmful was unknown so far. Identifying the cut-off length is crucial to ensure the production of safe fibers in the future and to better understand the health impact of asbestos and other fibers.
During the study, the researchers used microscopic silver casts to fabricate different sized fibers. They then observed the impact of these fibers on mouse cells to obtain their findings.