Silicones may lead to cell death

Silicones may lead to cell death

Silicone molecules from breast implants can initiate processes in human cells that lead to cell death. Our new study demonstrating that small dimethylcyclosiloxanes induce cell death in cultured human cells was published on 12 June in Scientific Reports. “However, there are still many questions about what this could mean for the health effects of silicone breast implants. More research is therefore urgently needed,” says Ger Pruijn.

The possible side effects of silicone breast implants have been debated for decades. There are known cases where the implants have led to severe fatigue, fever, muscle and joint aches, and concentration disturbance. However, there is as yet no scientific study demonstrating the effect silicone molecules can have on human cells that could explain these side effects.

Silicone in the body

It is a known fact that breast implants ‘bleed’, i.e. silicone molecules from the implant pass through the shell and enter the body. Earlier research, in 2016, by Dr Rita Kappel, plastic surgeon, and Radboud university medical center, found that silicone molecules can then migrate through the body via the bloodstream or lymphatic system. The biochemists at Radboud University next asked themselves the follow-up question: what effect might silicone molecules have on cells exposed to it?

Cultured cells

Experiments with cultured cells showed that silicones appeared to initiate molecular processes that lead to cell death. Similarities with molecular processes related to  apoptosis, a form of programmed cell death that has an important function in clearing cells in our body, were observed. This effect appeared to depend on the dose of silicone and the size of the silicone molecules. The smaller the molecule, the stronger the effect.

Various types of cultured human cells were exposed to small silicone molecules – which also occur in silicone breast implants – and the results showed that the sensitivity to silicones differs between different cells.


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‘Low molecular weight silicones induce cell death in cultured cells’, Carla Onnekink, Rita M. Kappel, Wilbert C. Boelens, Ger J. M. Pruijn, Scientific Reports

DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-66666-7



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