New Technique to Find Accumulated Microplastics in Humans

| By Leon Kirschgens & Jacqueline Plaster
Plastic fibers under microscopy.

The effects of micro- and nanoplastic particles on humans are still being investigated. Recently, a new technique has been developed to detect micro- and nanoplastic particles in human organs.

The fact that microplastics can be found all over the world is nothing new anymore and the damage it does to our environment is becoming increasingly apparent.

But what effect does it have on humans? It is quite obvious, that we also absorb plastics. It can be found everywhere, so why should it not be found in us? We absorb it for example through contaminated food or through inhalation (tire abrasion, dust in the air) or through our skin. An average person consumes up to 1769 plastic particles per week from water alone - according to a WWF study published in 2019.

It is speculated that microplastics smaller than 20 µm should be able to penetrate organs, according to a new review. Particles with a size of about 10 µm should be able to reach all organs, as they could pass through cell membranes. It's incredibly hard to imagine because they are so incredibly small sizes, and therefore also difficult to detect.  

Now a new technique has been developed to detect micro- and nanoplastic particles in human organs by a team from the Arizona State University. They tested their technique by adding particles to 47 samples of lung, liver, spleen, and kidney tissue from a tissue bank. The microplastics could then be detected in each sample.

The team would like to make the new method available to other scientists so that other researchers can also report their results in a standardized way. In the long term, this should lead to the creation of a database in which it will be possible to compare the exposure of particles in organs, in specific groups of people or time and location.

We are curious to see what results the method will produce over the next few years!