Researchers at University of Illinois have created a new inexpensive and simple way to produce carbon nanoparticles. They are small enough to evade the body’s immune system, reflect light in the near-infrared range for easy detection, and carry payloads of pharmaceutical drugs to targeted tissues. However, when usual methods to produce carbon nanoparticles are rather complex and can take days, this one generates the particles in a few hours and uses only a handful of ingredients, including store-bought molasses.
This new method is so simple and requires so little ingredients and time that these carbon nanoparticles can virtually be made at home. Dipanjan Pan, bioengineering professor one of authors of the study, said that you just have to mix honey or molasses, put them into microwave oven and “cook it for a few minutes, and you get something that looks like char, but that is nanoparticles with high luminescence”. This method is extremely simple and highly scalable for eventual clinical use.
These carbon nanoparticles produced in such a simple and inexpensive way have several attractive properties. First of all, they naturally scatter light in a manner that makes them easy to differentiate from human tissues, which eliminates the need to add dyes or fluorescing molecules to help detect them in the body.
Secondly, these particles are coated with polymers, which fine-tune their optical properties and their rate of degradation in the body. These polymers can be loaded with drugs that are gradually released. Finally, carbon nanoparticles are rather small, less than eight nanometres in diameter (in comparison, a human hair is 80,000 to 100,000 nanometres thick). This is very important and useful, since human immune system fails to recognize anything under 10 nanometres, which allows for a better therapeutic potential.
The team of researchers tested the therapeutic potential of these carbon nanoparticles by loading them with an anti-melanoma drug and mixing them in a topical solution that was applied to pig skin. However, scientists have to make sure they coated particles properly, so they used vibrational spectroscopic techniques to identify the molecular structure of the nanoparticles and their cargo. They used spectroscopy to confirm the formulation as well as visualize the delivery of the particles and drug molecules.
The experiment showed that the carbon nanoparticles did not release the drug payload at room temperature, which was one of the desired goals. They began to release the anti-cancer drug only at body temperature. Scientists also found that they can alter the infusion of the particles into melanoma cells by adjusting the polymer coatings. Study showed that cancer cells were affected positively by drugs delivered by these carbon nanoparticles.
These carbon nanoparticles, despite being made from honey in the microwave, are very useful indeed. They can be used to carry a variety of different drugs into a human body. It is a very versatile platform to treat melanoma, other kinds of cancers and other diseases. Scientists say that they can be coated with different polymers to give them different optical properties to make them even easier to detect in the organism, as well as to make it carry several different drugs at the same time to allow for a multidrug therapy with the same particles.
Scientists also can make them glow at certain wavelengths and tune them to release the drugs in the presence of the cellular environment. This is a great achievement, having in mind that currently production of carbon nanoparticles requires expensive equipment and purification processes that can take days. New method will allow for a greater variety of experiments, which will eventually lead to innovative drug therapies for cancer and other diseases.