Rice researchers tune toxicity in buckyballs

Sept. 24, 2004 – Rice University researchers have found a way to lower the toxicity levels of fullerenes, a technique that could reduce health or environmental risks that nanomaterials might cause in consumer products and industrial processes.

The team from Rice’s Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology performed what they called the first study of toxic effects on individual human cells exposed to buckyballs, soccer ball-shaped molecules containing 60 carbon atoms eyed for use in fuel cells, coatings and drugs. By attaching other molecules to the surface of buckyballs, they able to significantly lower the toxicity level when exposed to liver and skin cells in a Petri dish.

Kevin Ausman, the center’s executive director, said the simple chemical modification could lower potential exposure risks during disposal of a product like a fuel cell or within a manufacturing plant. Removing attached molecules and enhancing toxicity could also be useful in chemotherapy treatments, for instance.

“We’re already talking to companies that are looking at fullerenes for bulk manufacturing and making sure they’re aware of these things,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing that industry, because basically they want to reduce their own risk, is very interested in adopting in their own practices.”

The research will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Nano Letters, published by the American Chemical Society. It also was published online by the journal Sept. 11.

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