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Pitt-led study identifies human enzyme that breaks down potentially toxic nanomaterials
Date:4/7/2010

PITTSBURGHAn international study based at the University of Pittsburgh provides the first identification of a human enzyme that can biodegrade carbon nanotubesthe superstrong materials found in products from electronics to plasticsand in laboratory tests offset the potentially damaging health effects of being exposed to the tiny components, according to findings published online in Nature Nanotechnology.

The results could open the door to the use of carbon nanotubes as a safe drug-delivery tool and also could lead to the development of a natural treatment for people exposed to nanotubes, either in the environment or the workplace, the team reported. The researchers found that carbon nanotubes degraded with the human enzyme myeloperoxidase (hMPO) did not produce the lung inflammation that intact nanotubes have been shown to cause. Furthermore, neutrophils, the white blood cells that contain and emit hMPO to kill invading microorganisms, can be directed to attack carbon nanotubes specifically.

"The successful medical application of carbon nanotubes rely on their effective breakdown in the body, but carbon nanotubes also are notoriously durable," said lead researcher Valerian Kagan, a professor and vice chair in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health in Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health. "The ability of hMPO to biodegrade carbon nanotubes reveals that this breakdown is part of a natural inflammatory response. The next step is to develop methods for stimulating that inflammatory response and reproducing the biodegradation process inside a living organism."

Kagan and his research group led the team of more than 20 researchers from four universities along with the laboratory groups of Alexander Star, an assistant professor of chemistry in Pitt's School of Arts and Sciences, and Judith Klein-Seethharaman, an assistant professor of structural biology in Pitt's School of Medicine. Additional Pitt researchers inclu
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Contact: Morgan Kelly
Mekelly@pitt.edu
412-624-4356
University of Pittsburgh
Source:Eurekalert

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