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Japanese Professor Warns of Cancerous Material

Kevin Ausman, executive director of the Rice University center for biological and environmental nanotechnology holds a bottle of carbon nanotubes. Nanotechnology is supposed to make computers small enough to implant into a wrist and supply materials tha

A Japanese professor says his former university is trying to suppress his research showing that carbon nanotubes, a material used in everything from skis to cables, may cause cancer.

Put simply, carbon nanotubes are carbon atoms rolled into microscopic tubes. The tiny needle-like cylinders have strong electrical properties and they are often used in transistors or copper wire.

But they look much like asbestos fiber, and former Shinshu University Professor Shozo Koyama says carbon nanotubes pose similar health risks. Asbestos are linked to a number of deadly lung diseases.

Koyama says that his research shows that two types of carbon nanotube fibers may cause cancer. He reached that conclusion after mice he injected with those carbon fibers developed cancer.

Studies done in Europe and the United States also have indicated a similar hazard, although the severity of the risk is still being studied.

Koyama says he unveiled his study a few years ago, but Shinshu University refused to acknowledge the findings.

His lawyer, Jiro Yamane told journalists Monday that is in part because the university has close ties with a company that produces carbon nanotubes.

Yamane says public universities in Japan have become increasingly tied to industry, since the Japanese government passed a law six years ago encouraging them schools to become more financially independent.

Yamane says a tight budget cut government funding, and universities have tried to fill that void by forming close ties with various industries.

The carbon nanotubes in question were developed by another Shinshu University professor.

But that professor and the university dismiss Koyama's findings. Last year, the university cut Koyama's access to his research facilities. A few months ago, the university fired the professor, citing issues with "sexual and power harassment."

Yamane says this points to a dangerous trend in Japan. He says universities are too focused on promoting and nurturing industry at all costs.

Koyama says companies that make carbon nanotubes have a responsibility to stop producing what he says are harmful products.