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Study Finds Nanotubes May Cause Mesothelioma

For the past decade, so-called nanotechnology has been all the rage in the manufacturing community as well as in marketing to consumers. Nanotechnology is a manipulation of matter on an atomic, molecular and supramolecular scale. Nanotubes are a type of nanoparticle that can be used as an electrical conductor or insulator and can be large enough to create piping through which other nanoparticles can be channeled.

A recent study from Cell press published in Science Daily, has found that some of these nanotubes can cause mesothelioma in mice.  This is significant because mesothelioma is a very rare cancer that is currently believed to be caused virtually exclusively by exposure to deadly asbestos fibers. This could be a major public health crisis because while asbestos is being used and less, the nanotechnology industry is exploding.

Boston MesotheliomaWhile the popular science fiction movies of the 1990s commonly depicted nanotechnology as involving tiny robots that perform all sorts of functions at a microscopic level, real science is nowhere near that level sophistication.  Current nanotechnology involves the use of materials that are so small they are measured using a nanoscale, and we are talking about microscopic materials.

Nanotechnology Linked to Mesothelioma in Law Animals

However, they are far from being as sophisticated as robots. One application may be for a topical cream or lotion such as sun block.  Even though the substance is a cream or lotion, at the microscopic level, it is comprised of molecules.  If the molecules are relatively large, full coverage is difficult because the edges of the molecules will not fit tightly against each other and this will leave microscopic gaps.  If the molecules are much smaller, they will fit together without any major gaps providing a more even coverage which is very helpful for a sunblock lotion as it will prevent the penetration or more UV rays.

One type of nanotechnology involves the use of nanotubes that can form extremely strong bonds while being very lightweight so they are useful in making things like helmets and aircraft parts.  They are also being developed for medical equipment. While this is good, the recent study has found that these nanotubes have caused mesothelioma in up to 25 percent of 32 animals used in the study.  This study has not been tried using human subjects for a variety of reasons that deal with medical ethics and safety, but the results are causing some major concerns that nanotubes could cause mesothelioma similar to the way in which asbestos causes mesothelioma.

Causes of Mesothelioma

As our Boston mesothelioma attorneys can explain, when asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they can become trapped in a layer of protective known as the mesothelium. Once these fibers are trapped in the mesotelium, there is no way to effectively detect them absent a tissue biopsy, which a doctor will not do without symptoms of mesothelioama, and even if they were detectable, there is no way for a doctor to remove them.

Over a period of 20 to 50 years, with the average being 40, the fibers will cause the cells to metastasize into the deadly form of cancer known as mesothelioma.  A Boston mesothelioma plaintiff will typically go to the doctor when the start to experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, or extreme abdominal pain.  The problem is that even when a person first develops noticeable symptoms and goes to a doctor, this is not catching the cancer early.  The cancer is already in an advanced stage by the time a person first gets symptoms and they are often told they have have a less than a year to live. This is is why it is often the surviving spouse or other next of friend that has become the administrator of the plaintiff’s estate who will actually be working with an experienced Boston mesothelioma lawyer and filing the case in court if a settlement cannot be reached.

Mesothelioma is not the same type of cancer as lung cancer that we normally, but often incorrectly, associate with a history of smoking.  It can form in the lungs as it does most often where it is called malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPA), but it can also form in the abdomen (malignant peritoneal mesothelioma) or the chest (malignant pericardial mesothelioma).  In this study involving lab animals, the fibers were directly placed in the pleura which surrounds the lungs in mice just as it does in humans.

Researchers then observed the changes over time including chronic inflation followed by a activation of cancer causing signal pathways.  This lead to the loss of genes that are considered the body’s gatekeepers in the prevention of cancer. Once the tumors formed, they were removed and examined where it was found that they were extremely similar to mesothelioma tumors found in humans.

Safer Manufacturing

One thing that the study creators wanted to stress is that it is not all nanotechnology or even all nanotubes  seem to cause mesothelioma, but only a certain type.  The problem is they are heavily used in manufacturing. The goal of the study is to compel these producers to using safer materials.

While this is in many ways like asbestos, in terms of potential dangers, the situation is also very different in that there is public information about the dangers. These days, it would be virtually impossible to hide the results of such studies from the general public due to the internet and public nature of the studies, but during the time asbestos was heavily used, the companies knew very well of the dangers but were also excellent at hiding the dangers.  They did not tell the workers in the asbestos mines, the workers on factory floors, and they did not tell the construction workers that were exposed to deadly asbestos fibers on a daily basis.  Not only are we dealing with manufacture or sale of a dangerous product, we are also dealing with claims of failure to warn of a known dangers. There are also claims of gross negligence, or the willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others.

There is also a hope that this research will help to treat mesothelioma in humans because there is not a complete picture of the exact biological changes that lead to the formation of the deadly cancer. This is because doctors and researchers rarely see less advanced cases of mesothelioma since it is almost always late stage cancer when patients are first diagnosed as discussed above.  Following the progress of the mice, even though we are dealing with nanotubes and not asbestos, can lead to new prevention and treatment options.

If you or a loved one is diagnosed with mesothelioma in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

Subset of carbon nanotubes poses cancer risk similar to asbestos in mice, November 2017, Cell Press, Science Daily

More Blog Entries:
Montana Settles Asbestos Claims for $25M, Feb. 19, 2017, Boston Mesothelioma Lawyer Blog