Carbon nanotubes are allotropes of carbon wrapped up in cylindrical empty tubes 10-9 m (one billionth of a meter) in diameter and lengths of 10-6 m.  Carbon nanotubes have unique physical and chemical properties that make them potential candidates for biomedical applications.  

With current efforts aimed at translating carbon nanotubes into therapeutic approaches, there is a critical need to develop a fundamental understanding of any toxicity that might be resulting from their interaction with biological systems.  

Researchers at West Virginia University are unraveling the multiscale biological material (protein)-nanomaterial (carbon nanotube)-cell interactions (Figure A); specifically, Dr. Dinu and Dr. Rojanasakul’s labs are incubating carbon nanotubes with human bronchial epithelial cells and analyze cell behavior using an electronic platform to detect nanotube-induced toxicity in real time.  

Optical examination of cells incubated with nanotube reveals topographical modifications upon nanotube cellular uptake as well as perturbed cell-cell interactions.  In particular, Figure B shows human bronchial epithelial cells with blue stained nuclei and green stained zona occludence protein 1 (ZO-1), a protein responsible for tight junction formation and cell-cell interactions, while Figure C shows how ZO-1 distribution is perturbed after cellular exposure to carbon nanotubes.  

This research is potentially transformative because it uses a non-invasive approach to test toxicity in real time and also offers a platform for quantitative measurement of a library of samples to be correlated with user-defined diagnostics or testing methods, all in a high-throughput manner.

Cerasela Zoica Dinu1,2, Reem Eldawud1, Chenbo Dong1, Yon Rojanasakul2
1Department of Chemical Engineering, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV
2Department of Basic Pharmaceutical Sciences, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV

Cerasela-Zoica Dinu, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering | faculty/dinu.html

The successful completion of Dr. Dinu’s work will lead to novel tools that integrate nanotechnology with biology, advanced technology and electrochemistry in applications for homeland security, medical diagnostics and environmental protection.