Micro- and nanoplastics transferred during cell division

Microplastics affect cell migration and distribution in cancer division.


Researchers from Vienna, including the University of Vienna and the Medical University of Vienna, along with other partners led by CBmed GmbH in Graz, studied how micro- and nanoplastic particles (MNPs) affect cancer cells in the human gastrointestinal tract.

They discovered that nanoplastic particles remain in cells longer than anticipated because MNPs are transferred during cell division. MNPs are known to accumulate in the gut. Furthermore, there are preliminary indications that these plastic particles may promote the spread of cancer.

Along with breathing, one of the main ways that micro- and nanoplastic particles (MNPs) enter our systems is by ingestion. Approximately five grams, or as much plastic as a credit card, join our stomachs every week. Researchers examined the interactions between MNPs and various colon cancer cells.

They found that MNPs enter cells and accumulate in lysosomes, like the cell’s “stomach,” for breaking down waste. MNPs are not biodegradable like natural garbage. They may remain in the body longer than previously believed since they can even transfer to new cells during division. There are hints that MNPs might make cancer cells move more, possibly aiding cancer spread. This will be explored further in future studies.

When colorectal cancer cells come into contact with nanoplastics—plastic particles smaller than one micrometer—they react differently. These particles are much more common than larger microplastics. The smaller the plastic particles, the more harmful they can be. The researchers, Verena Pichler and Lukas Kenner, found that nanoplastics can influence cell behavior, possibly worsening diseases.

Due to widespread plastic pollution, humans are regularly exposed to these tiny particles. Kenner said, “More research is needed to understand their long-term effects. Pichler is concerned that nanoplastics might cause chronic toxicity because they’re absorbed and stay in tissues and cells for a long time. These particles meet two of three criteria used to classify substances as concerning under EU Chemicals Regulation.”

The study highlights the significance of MNPs during cell division. It suggests further research to understand their effects on human health.

Journal reference:

  1. Ekaterina Brynzak-Schreiber, Elisabeth Schögl, et al., Microplastics role in cell migration and distribution during cancer cell division. Chemosphere. DOI: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2024.141463.