Nanocomposite Discovery Has Potential to Develop Better Cancer Treatments

Nanotechnology may lead to breakthroughs in the treatment of several diseases.

Nanotechnology may lead to breakthroughs in the treatment of several diseases.

A new nanocomposite discovery could lead scientists to develop better treatments for cancer, according to faculty at Louisiana Tech University. The nanocomposite is formed by the self-assembly of copper and a biological component that occurs under physiological conditions.

The team of researchers also discovered a way for this synthesis to be executed in liquid form. This would allow for control of the synthesis and to grow structures with larger features for heightened observation.

“We are currently investigating how this new material interacts with cells,” said study lead Mark DeCoster, PhD. “It may be used, for example for drug delivery, which could be used in theory for fighting diseases such as cancer. Also, as a result of the copper component that we used, there could be some interesting electronics, energy, or optics applications that could impact consumer products. In addition, copper has some interesting and useful antimicrobial features.

“Finally, as the recent environmental spill of mining waste into river systems showed us, metals, including copper, can sometimes make their way into freshwater systems, so our newly discovered metal-composite methods could provide a way to ‘bind up’ unwanted copper into a useful or more stable form.”

There are 2 surprising aspects to the research, according to Dr. DeCoster. First, the researchers discovered that once formed, the copper nanocomposites were incredibly stable both in liquid or solid form, and they remained stable for many years. Second, the composites are resistant to agglomeration, the process by which materials stick or clump together.

“This is of benefit because it allows us to work with individual structures in order to separate or modify them chemically,” Dr. DeCoster explained. "When materials stick together and clump, as many do, it is much harder to work with them in a logical way. Both of these aspects, however, fit with our hypothesis that the self-assembly that we have discovered is putting positively charged copper together with negatively charged sulfur-containing cystine."

DeCoster said that the future of this research has some potentially important implications. The team of researchers along with collaborators and colleagues are speaking about how to test these nanocomposites for applications in bioengineering and larger composites such as materials that would be large enough to be hand-held.

“Our recent publication of the work could generate some interest and new ideas,” Dr. DeCoster noted. “We are working on new proposals to fund the research and to keep it moving forward. We are currently making these materials on an ‘as needed’ basis, knowing that they can be stored once generated, and if we discover new uses for the nanocomposites, then applications for the materials could lead to income generation through a start-up company that I have formed.”

As scientists investigate these findings further, researchers have no doubt that this discovery will lead to breakthroughs in the areas of oncological treatment, as well as the treatment of other diseases. With further research, scientists will be able to develop a method for administering drugs that is more effective than traditional techniques.