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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The effects of carbon nanotubes on living tissue have received a lot of recent attention as the tiny structures are incorporated into new kinds of electronics and studied for new drug delivery methods. Because of their tiny size, nanotubes can penetrate the membranes that surround our cells, and studies have suggested that they can be harmful when inhaled.
To get a better idea of how worried we should be, Michelle Chen of Simmons College treated ovarian cells from hamsters with different concentrations of carbon nanotubes. After inspecting the surface of the cells to look for signs of damage, she found that high levels can cause problems, but that lower levels of carbon nanotubes, in the range of quantities now being explored for drug delivery technologies, caused no noticeable changes.
"Nanotubes can enter cells, do their drug delivery job, and it doesn't cause the cells to die," said Chen. "At low concentrations, the cells reproduced just fine."
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