Tungsten-based composites have been recommended as a suitable replacement for depleted uranium. Unfortunately, one of these mixtures composed of tungsten (W), nickel (Ni) and cobalt (Co) induced rhabdomyosarcomas when implanted into the leg muscle of laboratory rats and mice to simulate a shrapnel wound. The question arose as to whether the neoplastic effect of the mixture could be solely attributed to one or more of the metal components. To investigate this possibility, pellets with one or two of the component metals replaced with an identical amount of the biologically-inert metal tantalum (Ta) were manufactured and implanted into the quadriceps of B6C3F1
mice. The mice were followed for two years to assess potential adverse health effects. Implantation with WTa, CoTa or WNiTa resulted in decreased survival, but not to the level reported for WNiCo. Sarcomas in the implanted muscle were found in 20% of the CoTa-implanted mice and 5% of the WTa- and WCoTa-implanted rats and mice, far below the 80% reported for WNiCo-implanted mice. The data obtained from this study suggested that no single metal is solely responsible for the neoplastic effects of WNiCo and that a synergistic effect of the three metals in tumor development was likely.
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