Carbon nanoparticles can be incredibly useful in the treatment of many types of disease, as they can evade our natural immune defences and deliver medicine to wherever it's most needed in the body. They're also relatively easy to track as they move through the system, but so far creating these nanoparticles has been a long and expensive process.
Now researchers at the University of Illinois in the US have found a much easier way to create a certain type of nanoparticle: using a process that involves plain old honey and a microwave. The resulting particles are less than 8 nanometres thick (a human hair is around 80,000-100,000 nanometres) so your body's immune system won't try and interfere with them as they deliver their medicine.
"These tiny particles are kind of camouflaged, I would say," explains bioengineering professor, Dipanjan Pan, who worked on the study alongside his colleague Rohit Bhargava. But the real beauty of the new procedure is how simple it is - you can even give it a try in your own kitchen.
"If you have a microwave and honey or molasses, you can pretty much make these particles at home," says Pan in a press release. "You just mix them together and cook it for a few minutes, and you get something that looks like char, but that is nanoparticles with high luminescence. This is one of the simplest systems that we can think of. It is safe and highly scalable for eventual clinical use."
That clinical use involves the carbon spheres being coated with polymer - a polymer that can gradually release drugs into the system to fight cancer and other diseases. Based on the tests carried out by Pan and his team, the microwave-produced nanoparticles are effective in delivering the drugs where they're needed, and vibrational spectroscopic techniques were used to monitor how the polymers gradually released their payload.
The researchers ran a series of different experiments to check the temperatures required for the drugs to disperse, as well as the depth at which they did so. Different polymer coatings were tested too as the team works towards getting these 'homemade' carbon nanoparticles ready for clinical use.
"This is a versatile platform to carry a multitude of drugs - for melanoma, for other kinds of cancers and for other diseases," says Rohit Bhargava. "You can coat it with different polymers to give it a different optical response. You can load it with two drugs, or three, or four, so you can do multidrug therapy with the same particles."