Toxicity Study Reveals Clues into Buckyball Mechanics

May 29, 2008
Pharmaceutical Technology Editors
ePT--the Electronic Newsletter of Pharmaceutical Technology

University of Calgary biochemists used computer simulation in a new toxicity study to predict how "buckyballs," carbon-60 soccer ball-shaped nanomolecules, could damage animal cells.

Calgary, Canada (May 26)-University of Calgary biochemists used computer simulation in a new toxicity study to predict how “buckyballs,” carbon-60 soccer ball-shaped nanomolecules, could damage animal cells. Results could explain how these molecules could be toxic to humans and animals.

The team modeled the interaction between the molecules and the cell membranes using a high-powered computing system called “WestGrid,” which is a partnership among 14 Canadian institutions. Cell behavior simulations showed how the buckyballs are able to dissolve in cell membranes, pass into cells, and reform particles on the other side where they can damage cells.

“Buckyballs are already being made on a commercial scale for use in coatings and materials, but we have not determined their toxicity,” said Peter Tielman, senior scholar at the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research, in a press release. “There are studies showing that they can cross the blood-brain barrier and alter cell functions, which raises a lot of questions about their toxicity and what impact they may have if released into the environment.”

The spherical carbon-60 molecules were discovered in 1985 and named Buckminsterfullerenes (after Richard Buckminster Fuller, the inventor of the geodesic dome). Known as “buckyballs,” these molecules can produce hollow fibers known as carbon nanotubes. Both buckyballs and carbon nanotubes are of interest in nanotechnology because of their strength and heat resistance, and both have been of interest in drug delivery applications. Research has focused on their toxicity because fullerenes have been shown to cause brain damage in fish and inhaling carbon nanotubes have been shown to cause lung damage.