Can Nanotechnology Lead to Autoimmune Disease?
Remember when nanotechnology was all the rage? Seminal books like “Engines of Creation” inspired breathless headlines in Wired, Popular Science and elsewhere about the incredible possibility these tiny particles represented. It wouldn’t be long before nanotechnology would unlock a new age of medicine, genetics, manufacturing, even human intelligence. The world was its very tiny oyster.
Of course that was decades ago. Since then, progress has been painfully slow – largely limited to a few new applications in apparel and cosmetics. Almost none of the promises of nanotech have come to pass, and today much of the funding has dried up. But even more damaging than that has been the great number of risks that are associated with these tiny particles. Back then, the dangers of nano-sized particles were purely theoretical, based in part on our knowledge of asbestos and other extremely fine particulates. This week, they were enshrined in science.
Scientists at Trinity College Dublin have published a devastating study on the effects of nanoparticles on human health. Among their findings: that particles on this scale can impede the natural cycle and metabolism of certain amino acids, prompting a powerful autoimmune response. Here’s the press release:
The result was clear and convincing: all types of nanoparticles in both the TCD and US study were causing an identical response in human cells and in the lungs of mice, manifesting in the specific transformation of the amino acid arginine into the molecule called citrulline which can lead to the development of autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
In the transformation to citrulline, human proteins which incorporate this modified amino acid as building blocks, can no longer function properly and are subject to destruction and elimination by the bodily defence system. Once programmed to get rid of citrullinated proteins, the immune system can start attacking its own tissues and organs, thereby causing the autoimmune processes which may result in rheumatoid arthritis.
When taken in tandem with the recent revelation that many U.S. scientists and policy makers missed a major source of fine pollution in their estimates, it seems that a broader picture might be emerging about the air we breathe and the growing incidence of asthma and respiratory disorders among young people in the U.S.