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Pieces of Eight


NIH Grant Aids Study of Nanotubes' Effect

By Doug Boyd

East Carolina University researchers have received a $1.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how a new type of manufacturing material affects the human cardiovascular system.

Dr. Christopher Wingard, associate professor of physiology, is the lead researcher in a study of carbon nanotubes, atomic structures that can be used as building blocks for materials as diverse as racing bicycles and semiconductors. Wingard’s team will look at how the particles, when inhaled as dust, affect cardiac function and blood flow.

“Because it’s such a new technology, we don’t know what the long-term impact will be on exposure,” Wingard said.

Wingard added that particles from some nanotubes might restrict blood flow, while others might increase it. Findings from the research will help determine what types of respiratory equipment people need to wear when working with materials made from nanotubes. It could also uncover if certain nanotubes could be used to deliver life-saving medicines to restricted blood vessels.


Nanotechnology such as nanotubes encompasses materials, tools and devices engineered at the nanoscale, or smaller than 1/1000th of a millimeter. At this scale, elements can undergo drastic changes in their characteristics and yield new properties such as super strength, ultra-high thermal conductivity and super electrical conductivity not seen in the macrocounterparts of the same element.

Scientists have known about carbon nanotubes for more than 50 years, according to some sources. Methods to produce and use nanotubes in manufacturing arose in the 1990s.

Wingard and other ECU researchers have studied air pollution’s effect on the cardiovascular system for the past three years with a grant from Phillip Morris USA and the International Research Foundation. Wingard thinks that this research helped ECU land the NIH grant.

The ECU team will get its nanotubes from Wake Forest University though a collaboration with NanoTech Labs of Yadkinville.

Other researchers working on the project are Dr. Robert Lust, professor and chairman of physiology at ECU; Dr. Robert Wardle, research assistant professor of physiology at ECU; Dr. Timothy Johnson, a biomedical engineer and professor of internal medicine at ECU; Dr. Michael Van Scott, a professor of physiology at ECU; and Dr. Benjamin Harrison, a chemist at Wake Forest University

This page originally appeared in the October 26, 2007 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at