Unanticipated Presence: Researchers Identify Microplastics in Human Cardiac Tissue

by Hiroshi Tanaka
Microplastics in cardiac tissues

Microplastics have been detected in the cardiac tissues of patients who have undergone heart surgeries, implicating invasive medical interventions as a potential avenue for the introduction of these particles.

Microplastics are ubiquitous; they have been found in various aspects of our environment, such as food, water, air, and even in some human tissues. Yet, the scrutiny of internal organs, which do not have a direct interface with the environment, has been relatively scarce. A recent pilot study with participants who had cardiac surgeries shows that many heart tissues contain microplastics. The study, newly published in the Environmental Science & Technology journal, also presents evidence indicating that the presence of microplastics in these tissues may have been unintentionally introduced during surgical operations.

Understanding the Nature of Microplastics

Microplastics are minute pieces of plastic with dimensions smaller than 5 millimeters, roughly equivalent to the size of a pencil’s eraser. Past studies have demonstrated that these particles can infiltrate the human body through oral, nasal, and other bodily passages connected to the external environment. Nevertheless, there is a lack of comprehensive information regarding the potential exposure and consequent impact of microplastics on fully enclosed organs and tissues within the human body.

In light of this, researchers Kun Hua, Xiubin Yang, and their team set out to explore the possibility that microplastics could have penetrated the cardiovascular systems of individuals, either through direct or indirect routes.

Key Research Observations

The research team gathered heart tissue samples from 15 participants during cardiac surgeries and also took pre- and post-operative blood samples from half of these individuals. Employing laser direct infrared imaging for analysis, the researchers identified particles ranging from 20 to 500 micrometers in width, composed of eight different kinds of plastic materials, including polyethylene terephthalate, polyvinyl chloride, and poly(methyl methacrylate).

The analysis uncovered the presence of numerous individual microplastic fragments in the majority of tissue samples, although the quantities and materials varied among participants. Plastic particles were also found in all blood samples, and post-operative analyses showed a reduction in their average size along with an increased diversity in plastic types.

Despite the limited number of participants, the study’s authors posit that they have offered initial evidence that a range of microplastics can accumulate and remain in cardiac and associated internal tissues. Moreover, they emphasize that invasive medical procedures could serve as an underrecognized pathway for microplastic exposure, facilitating direct entry into the bloodstream and internal tissues. Additional research is necessary to fully comprehend the implications of microplastics on cardiovascular health and outcomes post-cardiac surgeries, the study concludes.

Funding Acknowledgement

The research was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Beijing Natural Science Foundation.

Reference: “Detection of Various Microplastics in Patients Undergoing Cardiac Surgery” by Yunxiao Yang, Enzehua Xie, Zhiyong Du, Zhan Peng, Zhongyi Han, Linyi Li, Rui Zhao, Yanwen Qin, Mianqi Xue, Fengwang Li, Kun Hua, and Xiubin Yang, published on July 13, 2023, in Environmental Science & Technology.
DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.2c07179

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Microplastics in cardiac tissues

What was the primary objective of the recent pilot study published in Environmental Science & Technology?

The primary objective of the study was to investigate the presence of microplastics in the cardiac tissues of patients who have undergone heart surgeries. The researchers aimed to understand whether invasive medical procedures could serve as a potential route for microplastic exposure.

Who conducted the research, and how many participants were involved?

The research was conducted by a team of scientists led by Kun Hua and Xiubin Yang. A total of 15 participants who were undergoing cardiac surgeries were included in this pilot study.

What methods were used to detect microplastics in the samples?

Laser direct infrared imaging was used to analyze heart tissue samples and blood specimens. This technique helped identify particles made from eight different types of plastic materials, including polyethylene terephthalate, polyvinyl chloride, and poly(methyl methacrylate).

Were microplastics found in all the heart tissue and blood samples?

Microplastics were found in most of the heart tissue samples, and all of the blood samples contained plastic particles. However, the quantities and types of materials varied among the participants.

What are the implications of the study’s findings?

The study suggests that microplastics can accumulate and persist in human cardiac and internal tissues. Furthermore, invasive medical procedures like cardiac surgeries may provide a direct route for microplastics to enter the bloodstream and internal tissues.

Is additional research required?

Yes, the study calls for more comprehensive research to fully understand the potential effects of microplastics on cardiovascular health and the outcomes following cardiac surgeries.

Who funded this study?

The research was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Beijing Natural Science Foundation.

What is the next step in this line of research?

The researchers conclude that more studies are needed to fully comprehend the implications of microplastics on a person’s cardiovascular system and their prognosis after heart surgery. Future research may focus on the long-term health impacts and the mechanisms of microplastic introduction into the body.

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Sara Davis October 11, 2023 - 10:39 pm

That’s honestly scary. Like, we’re talking about heart surgeries here! These are already risky enough. more research needed for sure.

John Smith October 12, 2023 - 4:20 am

Wow, this is pretty alarming! never thought medical procedures could be a source of microplastics. We need to dig deeper into this, ASAP.

Mike O'Brien October 12, 2023 - 9:35 am

didn’t see this comin. I mean, what’s next? finding plastics in our brains? Serious stuff here.

Emily Williams October 12, 2023 - 10:09 am

This is a wake-up call! I always thought the problem was mostly external, like in oceans and animals. But it’s literally close to our hearts now.

Karen Johnson October 12, 2023 - 7:25 pm

This can’t be taken lightly. Could it be affecting the success rate of surgeries? We’re playin with fire here.

Peter Chen October 12, 2023 - 8:17 pm

Im shocked but not surprised. With the rate we’re polluting, its bound to happen. Time to act is now, people!


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