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Nickel nanoparticles may contribute to lung cancer
Date:8/23/2011

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] All the excitement about nanotechnology comes down to this: Structures of materials at the scale of billionths of a meter take on unusual properties. Technologists often focus on the happier among these newfound capabilities, but new research by an interdisciplinary team of scientists at Brown University finds that nanoparticles of nickel activate a cellular pathway that contributes to cancer in human lung cells.

"Nanotechnology has tremendous potential and promise for many applications," said Agnes Kane, chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. "But the lesson is that we have to learn to be able to design them more intelligently and, if we recognize the potential hazards, to take adequate precautions."

Kane is the senior author of the study published in advance online this month in the journal Toxicological Sciences.

Nickel nanoparticles had already been shown to be harmful, but not in terms of cancer. Kane and her team of pathologists, engineers and chemists found evidence that ions on the surface of the particles are released inside human epithelial lung cells to jumpstart a pathway called HIF-1 alpha. Normally the pathway helps trigger genes that support a cell in times of low oxygen supply, a problem called hypoxia, but it is also known to encourage tumor cell growth.

"Nickel exploits this pathway, in that it tricks the cell into thinking there's hypoxia but it's really a nickel ion that activates this pathway," said Kane, whose work is supported by a National Institues of Health Superfund Research Program Grant. "By activating this pathway it may give premalignant tumor cells a head start."

Size matters

The research team, led by postdoctoral research associate and first author Jodie Pietruska, exposed human lung cells to nanoscale particles of metallic nickel and nickel oxide,
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Contact: David Orenstein
david_orenstein@brown.edu
401-863-1862
Brown University
Source:Eurekalert

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