Metal-free graphene quantum dots for highly efficient tumor therapy

Treating tumors with few side effects.

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Nanozymes based on metals have demonstrated promising potential as therapeutic agents for cancer treatment. However, a significant challenge in their application is the potential for off-target side effects due to metal toxicity.

In a new study, a research group led by Prof. WANG Hui from the Hefei Institutes of Physical Science of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has introduced a metal-free nanozyme based on graphene quantum dots (GQDs) for highly efficient tumor chemodynamic therapy (CDT).

Graphene quantum dots (GQDs) offer a promising and cost-effective solution to address the toxicity concerns of metal-based nanozymes in tumor CDT. However, the clinical application of GQDs faces challenges due to their limited catalytic activity, especially under demanding catalytic conditions.

LIU Hongji, a research team member, said, “The obtained GQDs, which are made from red blood cell membranes, are highly effective in treating tumors with few side effects. One of the advantages is that they are metal-free. In addition, they function as excellent peroxidase-like biocatalysts.”

To enhance the catalytic performance of the GQD-based nanocatalytic adjuvant, researchers employed a diatomic doping strategy, introducing both nitrogen and phosphorus into GQDs. This synergistic electron effect generated highly localized states near the Fermi level, leading to efficient enzymatic activity compared to single heteroatom doping.

The resulting GQDs, derived from erythrocyte membranes, demonstrated impressive peroxidase-mimicking activity. They were highly effective at inducing apoptosis and ferroptosis of cancer cells in vitro.

Moreover, these GQDs exhibited selective tumor targeting, achieving significant tumor inhibition rates of 77.71% for intravenous injection and 93.22% for intratumoral injection without causing off-target side effects.

This drug-free, target-specific, and biologically benign nanozyme has excellent potential as a potent biocatalyst for safe cancer treatment.

Journal Reference:

  1. Hongji Liu, Zhiming Deng et al. Graphene quantum dots as metal-free nanozymes for chemodynamic therapy of cancer. Matter. DOI: 10.1016/j.matt.2023.12.005

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