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Expert Rev Respir Med. 2011 Dec;5(6):779-87. doi: 10.1586/ers.11.72.

Carbon nanotubes as delivery systems for respiratory disease: do the dangers outweigh the potential benefits?

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Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA.


Nanoparticle drug-delivery systems offer the potential for improved efficacy of treatment, and yet there are also potential risks associated with these novel therapeutic strategies. An attractive property of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) is that the tube- or fiber-like structure allows for extensive functionalization and loading of cargo. However, a large body of evidence indicates that CNTs may have adverse effects if used in drug delivery as they have been shown to cause pulmonary fibrosis and exacerbate lung disease in rodents with pre-existing lung diseases. Major factors that cause these toxic effects are the high aspect ratio, durability and residual metal content that generate reactive oxygen species. Therefore, careful consideration should be given to the possibility that lung inflammation or fibrosis could be significant side effects caused by a CNT-based drug-delivery system, thereby outweighing any potential beneficial effects of therapeutic treatment. However, functionalization of CNTs to modulate aspect ratio, biodegradability and to remove residual metals could allow for safe design of CNTs for use in drug delivery in certain circumstances.

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