Nanoparticles, which are widely used, for example, in cosmetics and food packaging materials, may be a considerable threat to people's health.
While the use of nanoparticles in consumer products increases, very little is yet known of their health effects.
The research teams of Professor Ilpo Vattulainen (Department of Physics, Tampere University of Technology, Finland) and academy researcher Emppu Salonen (Department of Applied Physics, Helsinki University of Technology, Finland) have together with Professor Pu-Chun Ke's Clemson University, SC, USA team researched how carbon-based nanoparticles interact with cells.
The found strong biophysical evidence that nanoparticles may alter cell structure and pose health risks.
During the research, the researchers found that certain cell cultures are not affected when exposed to fullerenes, i.e. nano-sized molecules that consist of spherical, ellipsoid, or cylindrical arrangement of carbon atoms.
They found that cells are also not affected when exposed to gallic acid, an organic acid that is found in almost all plants and, for instance, in tea.
However, when fullerenes and gallic acid are present in the cell culture at the same time, they interact to form structures that bind to the cell surface and cause cell death.
The new research shows how difficult it is to map out the health effects of nanoparticles.
Even if a certain nanoparticle does not appear toxic, the interaction between this nanoparticle and other compounds in the human body may cause serious problems to cell functions.
Since the number of possible combinations of nanoparticles and various biomolecules is immense, it is practically impossible to research them systematically.