sábado, septiembre 24, 2005

Problemas con nano

La jornada, México, 23/09/2005

LOS PROBLEMAS DE LA NANOTECNOLOGIA

Silvia Ribeiro */I

Las nanotecnologías prometen beneficios de todo tipo, desde aplicaciones médicas nuevas o más eficientes a soluciones de problemas ambientales y muchos otros; sin embargo, la mayoría de la gente todavía no sabe de qué se trata.

Las nanotecnologías son un conjunto de técnicas que se utilizan para manipular la materia a la escala de átomos y moléculas. Nano es una medida, no un objeto. A diferencia de la biotecnología, donde "bio" indica que se manipula la vida, la nanotecnología habla solamente de una escala.

Un nanómetro es la millonésima parte de un milímetro. Para comprender el potencial de esta tecnología es clave saber que las propiedades físicas y químicas de la materia cambian a escala nanométrica, lo cual se denomina efecto cuántico. La conductividad eléctrica, el color, la resistencia, la elasticidad, la reactividad, entre otras propiedades, se comportan de manera diferente que en los mismos elementos a mayor escala.

El oro se ve amarillo a simple vista mientras que las nanopartículas de oro son rojas. El dióxido de titanio que se usa desde hace décadas como protector solar y aditivo alimentario es blanco, pero a nanoescala es transparente. El grafito que encontramos en los lápices se compone solamente de átomos de carbono y es muy blando, pero los mismos átomos de carbono, estructurados como nanotubos (llamados fulerenos), forman materiales más resistentes que el acero y mucho más livianos.

Las aplicaciones más usadas comercialmente a escala mundial son las nanopartículas -fabricadas para cambiar las propiedades que tienen esos elementos a mayor tamaño o combinarlas con otros materiales otorgándole nuevas propiedades- y las nanocápsulas, pequeños contenedores de sustancias para su liberación controlada, por ejemplo en administración de medicamentos, cosméticos, o agrotóxicos, que no se liberan hasta entrar en contacto con ciertos tejidos en humanos, animales o plantas.

En el mercado ya existen cerca de 475 productos que usan nanotecnología: protectores solares, cosméticos, aditivos alimentarios, plaguicidas, textiles (por ejemplo en camisas y pantalones), barnices, recubrimientos y membranas que se aplican a artículos del hogar, chips electrónicos, sensores y dispositivos para diagnóstico. La Fundación Nacional de la Ciencia de Estados Unidos estima que en 2012 la mitad de la industria farmacéutica se basará en la nanotecnología.

Pese a que la nanotecnología ya está ampliamente en contacto con nuestra vida cotidiana, casi no existen estudios sobre sus potenciales efectos negativos. Hay escasos estudios sobre los problemas que podría acarrear en la salud y el ambiente, y prácticamente ninguno en torno al impacto político, militar y en las economías, sobre todo de los países del sur.

Para tomar uno de los aspectos que más preocupan, veamos qué se sabe respecto a los impactos en la salud.

En 1997 investigadores de la Universidad de Oxford y la Universidad de Montreal mostraron que el dióxido de titanio y el óxido de zinc usados como nanopartículas en la mayoría de los bloqueadores solares producen radicales libres en las células de la piel, dañando el ADN. Ambas sustancias se usan hace décadas como protectores solares, pero debido a que son blancos y opacos en su formulación de mayor tamaño sólo los usaban quienes tenían más exposición al sol a causa de su trabajo. Ahora, al ser transparentes, se ha generalizado su aplicación.

El mismo efecto de producir radicales libres se observó en cosméticos que usan nanopartículas (la mayor parte de las cremas antiarrugas y otros cosméticos de efecto rápido), convirtiéndolas en una contradicción en sí mismas, ya que los radicales libres aceleran el envejecimiento de las células.

L'Oreal, una de las empresas que más utiliza este sistema, conoce estos efectos y alega que ha recubierto las nanopartículas con otras sustancias, además de agregarles factores que combaten los radicales libres que originan. Imaginen el coctel que uno se aplica en la piel.

En 2002, el Centro de Nanotecnología Biológica y Ambiental de la Universidad de Rice, Houston, informó que las nanopartículas se acumulan en los órganos de animales de laboratorio (hígado y pulmones). Esto podría dar origen a tumores, al igual que el daño del ADN. Los nanotubos, similares a finísimas agujas, podrían clavarse en los pulmones con efectos parecidos al que provoca el asbesto.

En 2003 en un estudio solicitado por el Grupo ETC, el tóxico-patólogo Vyvyan Howard concluyó que el tamaño de las nanopartículas, más que el material que las constituye, es un riesgo en sí mismo porque aumenta exponencialmente su potencial catalítico y el sistema inmunológico no las detecta, pese a que atraviesan, por ejemplo, la barrera sanguínea que rodea el cerebro, con efectos potencialmente tóxicos por sí mismas o por lo que pueda adherirse a ellas y pasar de polizón.

En 2004, Howard informó en una conferencia mundial sobre nanotoxicidad que las nanopartículas se mueven de la madre al feto por medio de la placenta. Ese mismo año un informe presentado en la reunión de la Asociación Americana de Química mostró que las nanoesferas de carbono disueltas en agua, simulando un grado de contaminación ambiental común, dañan el cerebro de los peces y provocan mortandad en pulgas de agua.

Estamos ante la liberación masiva al ambiente, al cuerpo humano, animal y vegetal, de partículas construidas artificialmente para las que los organismos no tienen ninguna prevención.



* Investigadora de Grupo ETC.
Por más información sobre el tema ver: www.etcgroup.org

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