Cancer researchers have been betting on nanotechnology for some time now to provide breakthroughs in cancer treatment. This is because nanotechnology, unlike current chemotherapy and radiation, offers the possibility of targeted treatment – killing only cancer cells with minimal damage to healthy tissue. In the latest development in this field, researchers have developed a novel drug delivery system to destroy cancer cells using graphene nanoparticles.

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research found that when the anti-cancer drug cisplatin was added to graphene, the graphene oxide sheets self-assemble into spherical nanoparticles enclosing the drug within. The chance discovery occurred while the team exploring the mechanism by the drug reacts with graphene. They also tested the mechanism using two other anti-cancer drugs – proflavine and doxorubicin – which showed no role in changing the shape of graphene oxide from a sheet to a spherical nanoparticle.

With cisplatin, graphene oxide formed particles of between 90-120 nanometre. These particle were absorbed by cervical cancer cells leading to programmed cell death.

The researchers observed that although nanoparticles containing cisplatin alone were able to kill cancer cells, when two drugs were used together, the efficiency of cancer cell destruction improved. The cisplatin nanoparticles containing either proflavine or doxorubicin were found to get into the lysosomes – enzyme-containign organelles with cells.The slow release of the drugs from the nanoparticleresulted in programmed cell death.

The results were published in the journal Chemical Communication. The researchers are planning to conduct further studies, testing the mechanism on other types of cancer cells and also in animal models.