Microscopic analysis has shown, for the first time, tiny magnetic particles from air pollution lodged in human brains. Researchers believe the large volume of magnetite particles found in brain samples suggest a possible link with Alzheimer's disease. Jim Drury reports.
Tiny magnetic particles from air pollution have, for the first time, been found lodged in human brains. The discovery suggests a possible causal link between dirty air and Alzheimer's disease. Researchers used microscopic and spectroscopic analysis to find deadly magnetite particles, distinct looking from those that form naturally in the brain. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR BARBARA MAHER, LANCASTER UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "Seeing these particles with their very distinctive morphologies and size distributions tells you that they haven't been dissolved. They look like they looked when they were in the atmosphere, and as well as being in the atmosphere they're now seen in the brain. So that's the novelty because magnetite is such a dangerous mineral for the brain, looking for and identifying magnetite in the human brain, that's why it's so significant." Magnetite is a magnetic, toxic, mineral, long associated with neurodegenerative diseases. Particles under 200 nanometers in diameter can enter the brain directly through the nose by breathing. Samples of 37 individual brains from people living in air pollution hotspots Mexico City and Manchester showed some magnetite particles under 5 nanometers in diameter. Although not claiming a definite link between the particles and Alzheimer's, the team thinks future research on the possibility is essential. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR BARBARA MAHER, LANCASTER UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "If pollution derived magnetite particles are a substantial causal link involved in neurodegenerative disease, that drives a - the individual level of trying to reduce their own exposure, but b - policy makers to try to do something to reduce the health burden. Alzheimer's disease may be a modern epidemic of our own making." It's believed that 44 million people globally suffer from forms of dementia, with Alzheimer's by far the most common.