New study on carbon nanotubes gives hope for medical applications

A team of Swedish and American scientists has shown for the first time that carbon nanotubes can be broken down by an enzyme - myeloperoxidase (MPO) - found in white blood cells.

Their discoveries are presented in Nature Nanotechnology and contradict what was previously believed, that carbon nanotubes are not broken down in the body or in nature.

 Bengt Fadeel

The scientists hope that this new understanding of how MPO converts carbon nanotubes into water and carbon dioxide can be of significance to medicine.

"Previous studies have shown that carbon nanotubes could be used for introducing drugs or other substances into human cells," says Bengt Fadeel, associate professor at the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet.

"The problem has been not knowing how to control the breakdown of the nanotubes, which can caused unwanted toxicity and tissue damage. Our study now shows how they can be broken down biologically into harmless components."

Carbon nanotubes are a material consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms rolled into a tube with a diameter of only a couple of nanometres (1 nanometer = 1 billionth of a metre) and a length that can range from tens of nanometres up to several micrometers.