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Health Concerns Raised Over Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticles in Swiss-French Study

A Swiss-French team of scientists warns of future health hazards caused by nanoparticles. But some doubts have been cast on the findings. The Swiss authorities are set to publish a strategy report on nanomaterials later this year.

Around two million tonnes of TiO2 nanoparticles are produced every year worldwide. They are used as a white pigment in many everyday products like paint, cosmetics, sun cream, vitamins, food colouring and toothpaste.

The researchers from Lausanne University, Orléans University and the French National Centre for Scientific Research in France investigated the inflammatory capacity of TiO2 nanoparticles by testing them on human cells and in lab experiments using mice.

They found that TiO2 nanoparticles cause similar effects to asbestos and silicone, activating the inflammasome NLRP3 - a complex mechanism responsible for activating inflammation processes - and releasing molecules capable of attacking DNA, proteins and cell membranes.

"With titanium dioxide you accumulate, like asbestos, particles in the lung. You get chronic inflammation and this can last ten or 15 years and the next step is cancer," Jürg Tschopp, the lead researcher and professor of biochemistry at Lausanne University, told

Tschopp, who was awarded the 2008 Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine for his pioneering work in the fields of cell death and inflammation, said he was concerned that nanoparticles could become "the asbestos of the future".

"Forty years ago we were at the same point with asbestos. There were some indications it was dangerous and could cause cancer, but the data and information was not solid," he noted. "We cannot exclude at the moment that nanoparticles are as dangerous as asbestos."