A team of Swedish and American scientists has found that industrial carbon nanotubes, a material once thought to potentially cause mesothelioma, can be broken into harmless components by an enzyme found in the body.
Specifically, the researchers found that the enzyme myeloperoxidase (MPO), which is found in white blood cells, can break down the material into water and carbon dioxide.
The study, published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, contradicts previously-held beliefs about the dangers associated with carbon nanotubes and may have medical implications on the treatment of mesothelioma.
"This means that there might be a way to render carbon nanotubes harmless, for example in the event of an accident at a production plant," said Dr Bengt Fadeel, an associate professor at the Swedish medical University Karolinska Institutet.
He added, "But the findings are also relevant to the future use of carbon nanotubes for medical purposes."
Several years ago, other scientists suggested that the material had a similar affect on the body as asbestos fibers, which can damage lung tissues when inhaled and cause cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma.
In the U.S., between 2,000 and 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma cancer are reported each year, according to the American Cancer Society.