What is translation?


Translational research represents the interface between basic research and clinical development. The goal is to enable the latest findings from basic research to lead to new therapies or diagnostic procedures for patients in the shortest of times. At the same time, questions that arise during the clinical practice are fed back to basic research for systematic analysis.






Nanomaterials being put to the test

The Fraunhofer ITEM is investigating the health risks of carbon nanotubes

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are among the novel nanomaterials which have a broad application potential. Their extraordinary properties – extreme tensile strength, high electrical conductivity, and low weight – make these tiny graphite tubes interesting for use in a large variety of products. Some studies, however, have provided indications that certain nanotubes with special characteristics could be carcinogenic, similar to asbestos fibers. In order to rule out potential risks to man, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research is now funding a research alliance on the toxicity of carbon nanotubes ("Forschungsverbund CarboTox") with about 1.25 million euros over three years. The aim of this project is to develop a screening method that will enable early detection of a possibly carcinogenic potential of carbon nanotubes. The other partners cooperating in this project besides the Fraunhofer Institute for Toxicology and Experimental Medicine ITEM in Hannover include the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research in Dresden, Germany, and Bayer MaterialScience AG in Leverkusen, Germany.


To date, it is known that shorter and tangled nanotubes are of only low toxicity. The scientists collaborating in the CarboTox project now want to find out whether individual carbon nanotubes act in a way similar to asbestos fibers and upon inhalation can induce tumor formation. To allow for the influence of the diameter, length, and functional groups to be explored, the project partners in Dresden will first generate custom-made CNTs, and scientists at the Fraunhofer ITEM will subsequently investigate the toxicological potential of these materials. For their investigations they will use only those CNTs that are present as single fibers under simulated lung conditions and might thus act similarly to asbestos. The investigations will be performed in the laboratory in different in vitro tests in cell cultures and, for validation purposes, also in vivo in animal models.


The scientists' primary goal is to discover in vitro screening tests that are capable of indicating the toxic or carcinogenic potential of carbon nanotubes. Such tests would make it possible at an early stage of development already to identify CNTs that are of no toxicological concern and stop the development of critical products and manufacturing processes in time.


Contact at the Fraunhofer ITEM

Dr. Bernd Bellmann

Inhalation Toxicology

Phone +49 511 5350-452


PR contact

Karola Neubert

Phone +49 511 5350-225

Zur Fraunhofer Pressemitteilung