Lanthanides are rare-earth heavy metals with useful magnetic properties and a knack for emitting light. Researchers had long assumed that lanthanides’ toxicity risk was low and therefore safe to implement in a number of high-tech breakthroughs we now take for granted: from OLEDs (organic light-emitting displays)¬¬ to medical MRIs and even hybrid vehicles.
In recent years, however, some scientists have questioned lanthanides’ safety. In matters concerning health care, for example, some MRI patients have attributed a litany of side effects, including long-term kidney damage, to their exposure to the lanthanide gadolinium, a commonly used MRI contrast agent. And in the wake of landmark studies showing that gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs) linger in patients’ kidneys, bone and brain tissue for months if not years, scientists have searched for clearer evidence linking lanthanide exposure to disease.