Micro- and nanoplastics in the body are passed on during cell division

The most significant way that MNPs enter an organism, aside from breathing, is through eating. Every week, particles of plastic up to the weight of a credit card find their way into the digestive system.

Researchers already know that the human body stores a significant amount of micro- and nanoplastic particles (MNPs) in the gastrointestinal system. Under the direction of CBmed GmbH in Graz, a research partnership comprising the University of Vienna, the Medical University of Vienna, and other partners has now looked into how small plastic particles affect cancer cells in the human gastrointestinal system. Because MNPs are transferred to the newly created cell during cell division, the study demonstrated that MNPs stay in the cell for far longer than previously thought. The first signs that the plastic particles can encourage tumour spreading were also found. The scientific journal “Chemospheres” published the study’s findings.

The most significant way that MNPs enter an organism, aside from breathing, is through eating. Every week, particles of plastic up to the weight of a credit card (around five grams) find their way into the digestive system. The group headed by Lukas Kenner (MedUni Vienna, CBmed, Vetmeduni Vienna) and Verena Pichler (University of Vienna, CBmed) looked at the interactions between MNPs and different types of colon cancer cells.

Through their research, they were able to demonstrate not only the precise location and mode of entry of MNPs into the cell but also their direct effects: Similar to other “waste products” in the body, MNPs are absorbed by lysosomes. Cell organelles called lysosomes, sometimes referred to as the “stomach of the cell,” degrade foreign substances within the cell. The researchers did note that the MNPs’ foreign chemical makeup does not cause them to disintegrate, in contrast to foreign substances of biological origin.

The MNPs may even be transferred to the progeny during cell division, depending on several variables. As a result, they are probably more enduring in the human body than first thought. Furthermore, preliminary data suggests that MNPs enhance cancer cell migration to other bodily locations, thereby facilitating tumour metastasis. A follow-up research will now be conducted to better explore this impact.

The primary cause of the changed behaviour of colorectal cancer cells concerning cell migration was their contact with plastic particles smaller than one micrometre (1 µm = 0.001 mm). These particles, sometimes known as nanoplastics, are found in water bottles, for example, 10–100 times more frequently than microplastics.

This is once again consistent with the results of our analyses.

It can be assumed that MNP causes chronic toxicity

Verena Pichler

Our study also confirms recent findings that indicate that MNPs can influence cell behaviour and possibly contribute to the progression of diseases.

Given the ubiquity of plastics in the environment and the persistent exposure of even humans to the smallest plastic particles, further studies are urgently needed to investigate long-term effects in particular.

Lukas Kenner

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Recent findings as well as past research indicate a significant absorption and extended retention in tissues and cells. As a result, the examined particles meet two of the three toxicological criteria that the EU Chemicals Regulation (“REACH”) uses to categorise chemicals as being of concern.

Source: Medical University of Vienna – News

Journal Reference: Brynzak-Schreiber, Ekaterina, et al. “Microplastics Role in Cell Migration and Distribution during Cancer Cell Division.” Chemosphere, vol. 353, 2024, p. 141463, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2024.141463.

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