Since many years, micro-scale tungsten carbide-cobalt (WC-Co) particles have been used in the hard metal industry, while the production and application of nano-sized particles has been introduced only recently. Accordingly, the majority of available toxicity data stem from research on micro-sized particles, only few studies exist on nano-sized WC-Co particles. Because tools made of nanoparticles are much harder compared to tools made of micro-sized particles, the application of nanoparticles in hard metal industry is likely to increase.


Many of the results described here on WC-Co nanoparticles were obtained by the project INOS, a research project funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

In in vitro assays, the enhanced toxicity of WC-Co is marked by a decrease in metabolic activity of cells, damage of the cell membrane and in some studies also with DNA damage [1,2]. In a study on various human cell lines originating from lung, liver, intestine and skin, nano-sized WC-Co showed similar results, but cells differed in their sensitivity.

Which genes are influenced by WC-Co particles was investigated on human skin cells. Such genes are able to unravel which functions of an organism may be influenced by particle uptake. The majority of influenced genes can be associated to cobalt exposure, and the observed effects were all known cobalt-effects; no new mechanisms of cobalt were found [3].


Literature arrow down

  1. Bastian, S et al. (2009), Environ Health Perspect, 117(4): 530-536.
  2. Anard, D et al. (1997), Carcinogenesis, 18(1): 177-184.
  3. Busch, W et al. (2010), BMC Genomics, 11(1): 65.



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