Carbon balls could help fight allergies

Soccer ball-shaped nanoparticles known as buckyballs may one day help to offer relief for allergy sufferers. Adapted buckyballs are capable of blocking the pathway mediating allergic responses in human immune cells, new research has revealed.

Buckminsterfullerenes—spherical cages about 1-10 nanometres in size made up of 60 carbon atoms—have for years attracted interest from material scientists for their ability to make strong, lightweight materials with interesting electrical properties. But they could have medical uses too.

It is known that buckyballs have a talent for mopping up reactive oxygen species called ‘free radicals’, which can play havoc with biological systems. “C60 has a very high electron affinity. It grabs electrons easily, so it can act to neutralise free radicals,” explains James Cross, a chemist researching fullerenes at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

Previous studies have shown that buckyballs can be used to protect nerve cells, for example, from damaging oxygen species1.

Chris Kepley, an immunologist at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, wondered if the carbon balls could also help out the immune system. Kepley’s team, working with a Virginia-based nanomaterials company, tested modified versions of the nanospheres in human cells and mice. Although the specifics of their formulations remain are under wraps, they say they were able to enhance the fullerenes’ functionality by adding side groups that increase their solubility. While some studies have hinted that buckyballs might be toxic, these modified versions have no apparent ill effects, says Kepley.

The group put human immune cells called mast cells in a dish—some with buckyballs, and some without—and then challenged them with a particle that is commonly used to mimic allergens such as pollen. Those with buckyballs released 50 times less histamine, one of the chemicals responsible for inflammation and tightening of the airways in asthma, and inhibited 30-40 other mediators involved in the allergic response.

Exactly how the buckyballs prevent mast cells from releasing histamine is unclear.

Source:The Times Of India

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