Cada año, la industria produce varios miles de toneladas de nanotubos de carbono. Más resistentes que el acero, estos compuestos tienen múltiples aplicaciones, como la fabricación de equipos deportivos, ordenadores, materiales de construcción o prótesis ortopédicas, e incluso el desarrollo de nuevas terapias génicas. Sin embargo, recientemente, científicos de la Unidad de Toxicología del Consejo Médico de Investigación en Leicester han demostrado que aquellos nanotubos con una longitud superior a 15 micras podrían ser cancerígenos. Según sus resultados, este tipo de fibras, consideradas largas, favorecerían la formación de mesoteliomas, un tipo de tumores asociados a la exposición al amianto, o asbesto. La revista Current Biology publica la investigación.

Durante el estudio, los investigadores compararon los cambios inducidos por las fibras largas de amianto y los nanotubos de carbono largos en el tejido pleural, donde mayormente se desarrollan los mesoteliomas. Seis meses después de la exposición, esta membrana que recubre ambos pulmones mostró alteraciones a nivel molecular, así como lesiones de carácter inflamatorio. Concretamente, los dos materiales incrementaron la proliferación celular y activaron vías de señalización oncogénicas, responsables de la transformación de células normales en tumorales. Además, al cabo de veinte meses, según la dosis recibida, entre el 10 y el 25 por ciento de los ratones desarrolló un mesotelioma. Un porcentaje muy parecido al de las personas expuestas al amianto.

Progresión del tumor y cambios epigenéticos

Para los científicos resultó interesante descubrir que las vías de señalización oncogénicas alteradas en ratones también cambiaban en muestras de pacientes. Ello les llevó a estudiar el gen supresor de tumores Cdkn2a, así como las proteínas p16 y p19, todos ellos afectados en mesoteliomas humanos. El análisis confirmó su hipótesis: tanto los nanotubos de carbono como las fibras de amianto indujeron en estos genes cambios epigenéticos que silenciaron su expresión. Por consiguiente, la exposición a los compuestos anuló su función como inhibidores de la proliferación celular y favoreció la progresión del mesotelioma.

Sin embargo, cabe destacar que no todos los nanotubos resultaron patogénicos; solo los de mayor longitud. Estos nanomateriales largos, delgados y biopersistentes, que se acumulan en los organismos, son muy parecidos en estructura y características físicas a las fibras de amianto. Con su estudio, los investigadores buscan informar y concienciar a los fabricantes sobre el uso de nanofibras más seguras. El sistema inmunitario puede reconocer nanotubos más cortos o gruesos, fagocitarlos y eliminarlos. Por tanto, no es necesario renunciar a tecnologías emergentes producidas con nanomateriales.

ENLACE ORIGINAL

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