Common Chemical in Consumer Products May Be Linked To Cancer

Led by researchers from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), a study published in the journal Biomaterials has revealed that a chemical commonly used in consumer products may potentially be a risk factor for cancer. The chemical, known as Zinc Oxide, is used to absorb harmful ultra violet light. However when this compound is transformed into nano-sized particles, they are capable of entering human cells and damaging their DNA.

Cells typically respond to this threat by activating a protein called p53. This protein’s purpose is to prevent damaged cells from multiplying and becoming cancerous. However, cells that lack p53 or do not produce enough functional p53 may instead develop into cancerous cells when they are put in contact with Zinc Oxide nanoparticles.

The findings indicate that companies may need to reassess the health impact of nano-sized Zinc Oxide particles used in everyday products. More studies are necessary to determine the use and concentration levels of nanomaterials in consumer products and how often consumers use them and in what quantities.

According to lead authors Asst Prof Joachim Loo and Asst Prof Kee Woei Ng, “Currently there is a lack of information about the risks of nanomaterials used in consumer products and what they can pose to the human body. This study points to the need for further research in this area and we hope to work with the relevant authorities on this.”

Asst Prof Ng and the rest of the research team claimed they would continue to carry out research on the DNA damage caused by nano-sized Zinc Oxide particles since it’s still unclear what mechanism is directly responsible. Aside from causing DNA damage, it’s also clear that nanoparticles can cause other harmful effects when used in high doses.

Ng claims, “From our studies, we found that nanoparticles can increase stress levels in cells, cause inflammation or simply kills cells.” She also added that apart from finding out the cellular mechanism, additional research is expected to determine the physiological effects and damage that nano-sized Zinc Oxide particles can cause.

Asst Prof Loo explained that besides enhancing the understanding of the potential risks of using nanomaerials, advancements in nanotoxicology research will also aid scientists in implementing nanomatrials for beneficial biomedical applications.

For instance, though killing cells in our bodies is not normally desirable, this can be a positive outcome if it is directed towards cancer cells in the body. The team is also examining how nanomaterials can be “re-designed” to pose a lesser risk to humans, while still possessing desirable beneficial properties.


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