Since many years, micro-scaled tungsten carbide (WC) particles are used in the hard metal industry, while the production and application of nanoparticles has only been introduced recently. Accordingly, the majority of available toxicity data stem from the research on micro-sized 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 are likely to increase.


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

In in vitro assays, WC neither influenced the metabolic activity of cells, nor damage of the cell membrane or of the DNA was observed [1,2]. Which genes are influenced by WC particles was investigated on human skin cells. Such genes may give an indication, which functions of an organism may be influenced by particle uptake. WC particles did not induce any specific response[3].

In further in vitro studies an incorporation of micro- as well nano-size particles into cells was confirmed. Micro-sized particles were observed in human macrophages and nano-sized WC particles in several human cell lines. Particles were never observed in the nuclei of cells [1,4].



  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.
  4. Lison, D et al. (1990), Environ Res, 52(2): 187-198.


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